OSU AD says financial support for student athletes should evolve
NCAA leaders have criticized the National Labor Relations Board ruling last week that permits Northwestern University football players to form a union. If the ruling stands, it would be the first college-level players’ union in the country.
But Ohio State University athletic director Gene Smith said that it might be the right decision for Northwestern.
In an interview on All Sides with Ann Fisher today, Smith said that OSU already provides the sort of security that Northwestern athletes seek, including a guaranteed education and health care for career-changing injury. For example, an athlete can move on to the pros and still return to OSU for classes and a degree.
Smith said the larger issue is about more than pay, which is not part of the NLRB ruling.
At OSU, Smith said, “The issue is that our scholarship model is old…because we do not provide anything above and beyond direct expenses. we do not include the cost of attendance.”
That means expenses such as laundry, travel to and from home, personal care and many other ordinary expenditures must be borne by the athlete and his or her family, he said. Or they do without.
Smith said that a coalition of the big five college athletic conferences is working to change the rules for the top 65 colleges and universities in a way that makes sense for those with large incomes and that avoids bankrupting less profitable sports schools. The 65 schools in the five conferences — Big 12, Southeastern, Big Ten, Atlantic Coast and Pac-12 — would create some kind of payment for athletes, like a stipend.
Smith has been in the news himself in recent weeks after the Associated Press reported that his contract with OSU guarantees an $18,000 bonus every time an OSU athlete wins an individual national title in a sport such as wrestling, swimming, and fencing, for example.
Smith did not defend the bonuses.
He said his contract comes from a culture that dates to the early 1980s and that it reflects what the market can bear in terms of competition for coaching and administrative talent at big-time sports colleges and universities. He said that model should change to respond to the negative perceptions.
- Gene Smith, Director of Athletics at Ohio State University
- Charles Clotfelter, Professor of Economics and Law at Duke University, and author of Big-Time Sports in American Universities