Ohio State director of athletics Gene Smith discussed a number of topics yesterday at the Morning Sports Report, an annual breakfast put on by the Greater Columbus Sports Commission that discusses the state of athletics in the capital city.
Speaking to an audience of around 900 fans and community leaders in the Ohio Union’s Archie M. Griffin Ballroom, Smith discussed football head coach Urban Meyer, the state of the athletic department, the Ed O’Bannon case, OSU’s facilities and more.
Here is a recap of what the athletics director had to say to the crowd.
Smith on Meyer, who led Ohio State to a 12-0 record last year in his first campaign: “I think everyone has recognized what he and his staff have done on the field and we’ve all seen that. I think the most impressive thing is off the field, his focus on developing the whole student-athlete, helping them academically, bringing the culture where they develop as men. He had the career night recently, that’s one of the many things that he’s implemented. Everyone knows that I’m big on the developing of our young people so they can get ready for tomorrow’s complex society, and I think that’s sometimes the unseen thing that he’s done just a magnificent job in. He’s done a marvelous job.”
Smith on the state of the athletics department at the moment, including recognition of a number of team and individual national champions in attendance at the event: “I think we are positioned extremely well, first and foremost because of the great support that Columbus and Buckeye Nation provides to our institution and our athletic department. We have great coaches – Urban is representative of that. We had some great champions this year. Blaz Rola was an individual champ in men’s tennis, and our men’s tennis team hasn’t lost a home match in 10 years. Can you imagine saying that here in Columbus, Ohio? They played in the national championship semifinals this year. Michael Newburger won a national title in gymnastics. Marco Canevari won a national championship in fencing and he was here earlier. Our rowing team won a national championship, and Logan Stieber is a two-time national championship wrestler.
“It’s just an honor and a privilege to create an environment for these young people to be successful academically and athletically. I came here in 2005 and in 2006, our graduation rate was 62 percent. This past year it was 81 percent. We’re on the trajectory that we should be on when you have great coaches like Urban and the great support we have.”
Smith on the recent success of the basketball program as well: “Our basketball program historically has been (up and down). Andy Geiger, my predecessor, did an unbelievable job of hiring Thad Matta. Our focus has been putting the resources in place for basketball to be just as successful as football. The resources have been here for football, but we’ve put in those resources to provide basketball an opportunity to be on that trajectory so we could be one of the few schools in the country where you can have two programs like that compete at the top of the pyramid. There’s no reason that we shouldn’t be able to do that with this great city and great leaders in our coaches. There’s no reason for basketball and football not to be able to coexist at The Ohio State University.”
Smith on the Ed O’Bannon case, a class-action lawsuit that seeks to provide not only restitution to former athletes whose likenesses are used by the NCAA but also could result in current players seeing more money from college athletics: “It’s a tough case, it really is. My opinion has been that we need to find a way to be able to provide more financial support to our student-athletes. I’ve been a proponent of taking our scholarships, and I don’t want to get too detailed here, and providing cost of attendance to the point where you provide an addition stipend, primarily for those student-athletes who are needy.
“This particular case, it’s a class-action suit, and if they ultimately win it, it will deplete the NCAA endowment fund, it would deplete the reserves of the NCAA. We would have to create a new structure, and we will have to create a new way we do business. It will require us to reduce our sport programs. There’s no way we will be able to fund 36 varsity sports because we will have to come up with a method to provide compensation and all that comes with that to support X number of sports. It’s going to change the business.”
Smith on Ohio State’s facilities: “Andy did a great job of setting the foundation, so our focus has been on deferred maintenance items. We’re doing the Horseshoe this year with renovating the seats and things of that nature. We’re building what we’re calling an athletics district, which is the area north of Jesse Owens (Stadium) and north of the Woody Hayes facility where we’re going to add the Covelli Arena. The sports medicine facility named after the Crane family will be up in that area. We’ll look at raising money for a small wrestling practice facility, replacing French Field House with an indoor track facility and a small ice rink replacing the ice rink. The area with French Field House and St. John (Arena) and the OSU Ice Rink is acreage that is more valuable to the academic growth of the institution. A lot of those facilities have deferred maintenance issues. This is a 15-20 year plan. We’ll eventually tear those down and replace them in the athletics district.”