Ohio State’s Ross Bjork, Ryan Day share high expectations for football season

Credit: Marcus Hartman

Credit: Marcus Hartman

Ohio State director of athletics Ross Bjork and football coach Ryan Day seem to have at least one thing in common this offseason.

They are both trying to catch up on Ohio State history.

“I’ve been reading a book, ‘Ohio State Athletics: 1879-1959,’” Bjork, who grew up in Kansas, told Big Ten Network in an interview this week to mark his officially replacing Gene Smith. “It was written in 1959, and it’s amazing all of these conversations around football, about the funding model, about academics and athletics coexisting, this conversation has been going on a long time.”

With 36 varsity sports, Bjork has a lot on his plate as he transitions from Texas A&M, a process that began with him serving as a special assistant to the university president in March.

Bjork has already overseen multiple head coaching hires, including men’s basketball and baseball, and NCAA leaders are trying to navigate a changing world that is expected to result in different compensation models for athletes and rules for roster construction, among other things.

He acknowledged all that in his BTN interview before coming back to something that is not expected to change anytime soon: Football is king in Columbus.

“Just like college athletics is evolving and that conversation exists, the conversation around Ohio State football remains the same,” Bjork said when asked about mounting expectations for the fall. “This is what we signed up for. Coach Day knows that. I know that.

“That’s the exciting thing is every year Ohio State is expected to contend, and that’s not going away. So when you sign up for that, you embrace that.”

When last season ended, Day and the Buckeyes faced much uncertainty.

After a third straight loss to Michigan dashed Big Ten and national championship hopes again, Ohio State was facing the possibility of a massive roster rebuild in December.

Instead, a dozen or so players who could have gone pro opted to stay in Columbus for one more season, and the roster was fortified with multiple transfers, including Kansas State quarterback Will Howard, Mississippi running back Quinshon Judkins and Alabama safety Caleb Downs.

While all stated a desire to win being a motivating factor in their decisions, some of the players acknowledged the ability to profit off their name, image and likeness also played a part.

Of course, Ohio State has not been shy about spending money to put the program in position to succeed even before the players were allowed to cash in beyond a scholarship and other educational expenses, but the new reality has also created the perception the 2024 Buckeyes could be the best team NIL payments can buy.

Bjork’s predecessor, Gene Smith, said he “blew out the budget” on his way out the door (mostly referring to coaching salaries), and it doesn’t sound like Bjork is looking to make any cutbacks.

“My conversations with Coach Day have been, ‘Hey, what are the resources that we need going forward? What is this new economic reality going to look like? How do we maintain position as an elite program and really as a championship brand?’” Bjork said. “Right now we have the No. 1 recruiting class in the class of 2025. Our roster is packed. We’ve seen that. We know that. Other people are talking about it just like we are internally. So I’ve been really impressed with how Coach Day has really attacked the leaderships pieces, the culture pieces, the players being on the same page and the cohesion that needs to exist in order for teams to really have success.”

Of course winning the offseason and winning in the fall are two different things. Ohio State has been recruiting at a high level for roughly 30 years, but some years it translates to more wins than others.

“It’s one thing to have all the talent in the world, but unless you have the culture right and the leadership characteristics right and everybody is dialed in and on the same page and there’s trust, that’s what Coach Day has built in this offseason,” Bjork said. “So I’ve been really, really impressed with how he’s led and how he’s developed his staff and all those things.”

Whatever proof might be in the pudding could start to show in less than a month. The Buckeyes are set to open preseason practice Aug. 1.

“So now that we get ready to go into fall camp, we get to see all that come to fruition,” Bjork said. “it’s exciting around Columbus to see this team, so those are the things I’ve really been impressed with Coach Day and how he’s led this program since I’ve been on the ground since March 2.”

Meanwhile, Day has mentioned multiple times this offseason he has been researching the history of Ohio State athletics, too.

The New Hampshire native noticed a parallel between the way the construction of Ohio Stadium was funded in 1922 to the way team construction can be financed in 2024 — mostly by the public, not the university — and acknowledged the enduring expectations are not lost on him, either.

At my opening press conference, they said you’ve got to beat The Team Up North (Michigan) and win every game after that,” Day said last month. “That’s just the expectations. When you come up short, you’ve got to figure out a way to get those things fixed. I think we have done that, but the expectations are the same every year. Pressure is the same every year.

“I just like the pressure when you’ve got a really good team behind you.”

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