Ohio State Buckeyes: Ryan Day compares funding NIL to financing Ohio Stadium

Aside from being the home of the Ohio State football team, Ohio Stadium is known as The House That Harley Built.

If the 2024 Buckeyes go on to win the national championship, they could be called the best team name, image and likeness payments built.

And Ryan Day sees similarities in the way each was built.

“When Chic Harley came, everything changed, and then you know Thomas French and (Lynn W.) St. John came in and said, ‘Hey, here’s what we’re gonna do: We’re gonna build a stadium of like over 60,000 people,’ and everybody thought it was crazy,” the Ohio State head coach told WBNS radio this week. “They said, ‘What is going on with college football? It’s insane!’”

Harley was a star halfback for the Buckeyes in 1916, ‘17 and ‘19. He led the Buckeyes to their first win over Michigan and their first Big Ten championship, but even more than that he helped turn the Ohio State football brand into one that reached beyond the Midwest.

That fame helped convince the university that St. John and French, a Dayton native who became essentially the first director of athletics at Ohio State around the turn of the 19th to the 20th century, might be onto something when they suggested Ohio Field on north campus be replaced by something much larger.

If Ohio State fans, not to mention the athletics department, were skeptical about the power of name, image and likeness (NIL), they needed to see no better example than Michigan winning the national title in January.

Coach Jim Harbaugh built his team to win with power football and defense, but it was a three-year project that relied heavily on maintaining veteran players who were more likely to stick around Ann Arbor because they could collect some extra cash before trying to make it as a mid-round pick in the NFL. The previous two offseasons, Harbaugh also supplemented the roster with key transfers who made up for graduations and recruiting misses, eventually ending up with an experienced, well-rounded group that won every game last season.

Although it is likely to change in the near future, funds for NIL payments at this time come not from the athletics department but outside sources. That includes private businesses who pay for endorsements as well as so-called “collectives” that pool funds they are able to collect to pass along to players.

To Day, that is not much different than when university leaders agreed to build a new stadium in the early 1920s — as long as they didn’t have to pay for it.

“That was a hundred years ago, and the money that they raised wasn’t from the university. It wasn’t from the state of Ohio,” Day told WBNS. “It was from the people of Ohio that raised the money — over a million dollars to build a stadium.

“Some people say that it was built in the horseshoe shape to serve as a magnet to draw people to Columbus. Well, it did that, and here we are today 100 years later in a moment where we’re thinking, ‘Wow what’s going on with college football?’ And you know the people of Ohio, the people of Buckeye Nation have helped support what’s going on with our NIL efforts, and because of that, we’ve had a lot of success here in the last few months.”

Ohio Stadium has evolved over the years, and player compensation models likely will as well as a result of a potential settlement in a lawsuit known as House vs. the NCAA.

Schools are expected to be able to share revenue directly with players as one of the provisions of a settlement, but NIL collectives likely will remain an option for supplementing player income and a potential differentiator in the ever-competitive world of college athletics.

“This House case is really gonna be interesting to see how it shakes out the next couple weeks because you know the revenue sharing is a big part of the conversation, and if there’s a set amount of money that’s gonna be set apart for revenue sharing, it certainly will be the next step in terms of hopefully streamlining how this works,” Day said.

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