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It makes sense for big schools like Ohio State to pay athletes directly

Ohio State wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. lines up against Michigan defensive back Will Johnson.
David Dermer
Ohio State's Marvin Harrison Jr., winner of the Biletnikoff Award as the best college wide receiver in the country, lines up against Michigan in this year's 30-24 loss to the Buckeyes' rival.

College sports continue to change rapidly with a new proposal from the National Collegiate Athletic Association that would allow Division 1 schools like Ohio State to pay their athletes directly.

Ideastream Public Media’s sports commentator Terry Pluto said paying athletes makes sense for schools like Ohio State, which in January reported an athletic department revenue of more than $251 million.

“This, more than ever I think, in some way should bring some clarity, which is needed in college sports, that Ohio State isn't just on a different level than Kent or Akron. It's in a different universe when you look at all the type of money coming in,” Pluto said.

Pluto said athletes at schools like Ohio State are practically playing at a pro level.

“My view has been for years, let the big boys go out and form their own rules and pay their players however they like because they're paying their coaches $7 million a year and things like that," Pluto said. "I just want to put them, like, off to the side somewhere. They got the cash. They got the TV contracts. Let them go figure it out."

The NCAA proposal to pay athletes directly comes two years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the NCAA cannot restrict education-related compensation benefits for student-athletes. Soon after, the state of Ohio enacted a Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) law for student athletes, which allows them to make money from endorsements and other sources.

“I mean, they (athletes) walk out, there's 100,000 people watching them. They have the Big Ten Network and ESPN and all those national TV contracts that are so lucrative,” Pluto said.

Pluto said he believes the NCAA is being forced to move in this direction.

“Not only is there lawsuits and things, you know, from players wanting to be paid, wanting a piece of the action, understandably. There's been a fear that the biggest schools will kind of go off and leave the NCAA behind and form their own association. And this almost allows them to do that and then they're still under the umbrella of the NCAA,” Pluto said.

The new NCAA proposal would apply to Power Five conference schools (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and SEC). They would invest at least $30,000 annually, multiplied by half of their total athletes, into a trust fund. That money would then be paid to athletes, male and female, in all sports. Pluto questions whether all 69 of those schools would be able to afford it.

“That's going to cost a ton of money, $7 to $10 million or more per year to these athletic budgets. And I just wonder if some of the lesser Power 5 schools can afford that,” Pluto said.

Pluto said paying athletes directly further separates Division I schools like Ohio State from Kent State. And he’s hopeful it will result in smaller Division I schools reexamining the cost of their programs.

“You know, if you look at the budgets at Akron and Kent State, the athletic budgets there usually run between $30 and $35 million. And they’re kicking in, it's called direct institutional support, at least $20 million. You know where that comes from? Student fees. You're paying somewhere between $700 and $1,200 a year to support the athletic department at those different schools," Pluto said. "And I just hope that maybe this will give these schools more of a realistic view of, ‘Do we really want to spend all this much money on football? We’re farther than ever of competing with the big boys.’”

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