Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith up for new contract

The Ohio State University Board of Trustees could approve a new contract for director of athletics Gene Smith this week.

A contract extension that would run through June 2026 was on the agenda for the board’s Talent, Compensation and Governance committee meeting being held Wednesday in Columbus.

If approved, it would be voted on by the full board during its regular meeting Thursday.

Smith has run the OSU department of athletics since 2005 and signed a two-year contract extension last year.

If approved, Smith’s new deal would take effect July 1.

It includes an annual base salary of $1.58 million to be paid monthly, and Smith is eligible for annual merit-based increases.

On top of that, he is due $480,000 annually for media appearances and public relations work while being eligible for up to $250,000 in bonuses tied to academic and athletic team success.

The new deal also includes a lump sum of $125,000 to be paid in July, and he is eligible for a $300,000 retention bonus if he remains at Ohio State through June 30, 2022.

The following two years, that retention bonus is $200,000. It is $250,000 in 2025 and $300,000 in the final year.

Smith is also entitled to use of a private airplane and other fringe benefits as well as two full family memberships to a local country club.

When he replaced Andy Geiger in 2005, Smith signed a seven-year contract with a base salary of $450,000.

That deal included many of the same incentives for team academic and athletic success but not additional compensation for media appearances, a long-time regular part of coaching contracts at Ohio State.

In 2007, that original deal was amended and extended, raising Smith’s annual compensation to $600,000 through June 30, 2016.

It was amended again the following year with a raise to $648,000.

Assistant vice president of the university was added to Smith’s duties in 2008 and converted to associate vice president a year later, moves that conveyed he would have decision-making and leadership responsibilities within the university beyond his role as director of athletics.

Compensation for media and public relations was added in 2010.

In 2013, Smith agreed to a new seven-year contract with a base salary of $940,484 plus $200,000 for media appearances and public relations.

That contract was extended two years ago in a move that included a raise in base salary to $1 million plus $420,000 for media responsibilities.

A Cleveland native who played football at Notre Dame, Smith has been an athletic director since 1986.

He worked at Eastern Michigan, Iowa State and Arizona State before returning to his home state in 2005 to take the Ohio State helm.

Under Smith’s leadership, Ohio State has maintained a self-sustaining department that fields 36 variety sports and more than 1,000 athletes.

While Geiger oversaw a period of immense change at Ohio State, the changes during Smith’s tenure have been even more significant.

In 2005, Ohio State’s athletic department revenue was $89.7 million per the Knight Commission database that tracks spending in college athletics.

Of that, 38 percent ($34.07 million) came from ticket sales while donor contributions represented 22 percent ($19.8 million) and 15 percent ($13.34 million) came from media rights, postseason football and NCAA distributions.

In 2019 (the last full year not impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic), media rights were the largest source of income at 33 percent ($69.65 million) followed by ticket sales (25 percent/$59.85 million) and donations (14 percent/29.68 million).

Of course, costs have also grown exponentially.

In 2005, Ohio State spent $89.58 million, a figure that grew to $223.6 million in 2019.

After Geiger oversaw multiple major construction projects — including building the Schottenstein Center, Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium, Bill Davis Stadium and a major renovation and expansion of Ohio Stadium — Smith has continued to upgrade and build facilities on campus.

That includes opening the Covelli Arena and the Ty Tucker Tennis Center along with major renovations of the Schott and a big expansion of the OSU football facility.

Smith has filled many leadership positions across the country, including serving on the NCAA’s management council and its committee on infractions, the Division I men’s basketball committee, the football rules committee and the College Football Playoff committee.

He was also part of the working group that studied allowing athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness.

Ohio State has done a great deal of winning during Smith’s tenure, but there have been controversies.

Smith was suspended for two weeks at the conclusion of an investigation into the handling of former receivers coach Zach Smith, and the school was the subject of major NCAA infractions cases three times.

Although the 2006 case against the men’s and women’s basketball teams involved things that occurred during the Geiger era, the 2011 case involved football players accepting extra benefits and head coach Jim Tressel failing to disclose knowledge of potential NCAA violation. In 2017, the swimming and diving teams were subject to punishment over recruiting violations.

Additionally, the women’s basketball, golf and fencing teams were subject to NCAA penalties assessed last year for separate violations.

Most recently, Smith has received high marks for his leadership as the department has dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic.

That included cutting a $107 million projected budget deficit to $50 million through various measures, including cost cutting measures, staff redeployments, furloughs and utilization of some cash reserves.

The department also benefited from a 62.4-percent increase in donations, bringing in over $48 million, and a 34.5 percent increase in money from royalties, licensing, advertising and sponsorships ($30.8 million).

Several of Smith’s proteges have gone on to athletic directorships at other institutions, including Martin Jarmond at UCLA, Pat Chun at Washington and Heather Lyke at Pitt.

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