New Ohio State AD: ‘We’re the biggest brand in college sports’

A new era of Ohio State athletics began Monday with Ross Bjork officially becoming the school’s director of athletics.

Although he has already left his mark by hiring multiple coaches, Bjork’s first day coincided with the flipping of the school calendar.

He replaced long-time leader Gene Smith, who had piloted the department since 2005, at a time of great change in college sports.

“The biggest challenges right now are creating the new opportunities that lie ahead with revenue-sharing, with the remodel of the financial equation between the athlete and the institution,” Bjork told the Big Ten Network. “All of that has to change. With a place like Ohio State, we have 36 sports. How do we manage that? How do we fund it? How do we remain competitive? Those are all the questions that we have to ask ourselves going into this new era. What is the right model? How do we have the same experience for our student athletes that we have before even though our financial equation may look different. Those are all the things we have to put on the table.”

Ohio State has long prided itself on maintaining one of the largest portfolios of sports in the nation, but a recently-agreed-upon settlement to a lawsuit promises to change the way athletics departments spend money.

Primarily that means sharing some revenue directly with some players, though all the details are still being worked out.

As reported by the Associated Press, terms of the settlement include the NCAA and its conferences agreeing to establish a revenue-sharing system that would allow schools to spend in the neighborhood of $21 million each year on their athletes. Doing so would be optional, as would the actual amount schools share, but Bjork said Ohio State plans to pend as much as it can.

“Ohio State will participate in the full amount,” said Bjork, who previously was AD at Texas A&M and Mississippi but became a special assistant to OSU president Ted Carter in March so he could learn the ropes under Smith. “We will share as much of the revenue that’s allowed under this new settlement, so we’re gearing up for that. The details of that still have to be worked out. So what does Title IX look like? Is it proportionality? Do you share 50% with female athletes and 50% with male athletes? Those things still have to be worked out. How that’s dispersed then from there, how many teams are on the women’s side, how many teams are on the men’s side?

“The fortunate thing is we have many great administrators who have been mapping this out for a really long time. Even before I got to Ohio State they started working on plans on how to really stratify all of our sports, so those plans all have to come together now that we have this revenue share formula.”

He said maintaining all 36 sports is the goal.

“President Carter, our board of trustees, our athletic administrators: We are committed to hosting 36 sports,” Bjork told BTN. “Again, that’s where things have to be really be evaluated. It will look different. And really I think the biggest difference will be between the athlete and this institution as far as the economic model. We’ve always had scholarships. We’ve always had financial aid, but now you have revenue sharing. Now you have NIL buckets. We’re going to be able to be more involved in the NIL moving forward, so what does all of that look like moving forward? Do some sports become walk-on sports where we still have the sport with coaches and all the resources to provide that experience but that athlete wants to come to Ohio State and be a Buckeye and compete in that sport, but they have to pay their own tuition? Those are the kind of things we really have to map out in terms of what does each sport look like.”

Some sports could have smaller rosters, but others might have more players on full-rides in the future. Currently high-profile sports such as football and basketball are “head count” sports, meaning everyone on scholarship is on full-scholarship, but many are “equivalency sports,” meaning most or all of the financial aid a program hands out is shared by multiple members of a team.

“We will have the ability to fund those sports as we see fit,” Bjork said. “You may have a women’s soccer roster that is all full-ride. Right now they’re an equivalency sport, so those could be positives for some sports. Then you look at other sports the equation will be different.

“How that gets mapped out will be different, but we have the resources. We have the fanbase. We’re the biggest brand in college sports. We have the most fans of any athletic department in all of college athletics. We’ll be on the right side of that equation whatever that equation is, and we’re ready to really start mapping that out and getting into some final details heading into the summer and fall.”

Among the coaching moves already attributed to Bjork are the hiring of new men’s basketball coach Jake Diebler and new baseball coach Justin Haire.

Ohio State also hired Kirin Kumar away from Miami University after a successful run as softball coach of the RedHawks.

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