Smith Recaps Meetings, Talks NCAA, Schedule

With the Big Ten AD meetings complete this week, Ohio State director of athletics Gene Smith took some time today to discuss the highlights with BuckeyeSports.com. Included was discussion on upcoming NCAA changes, the Big Ten's move east and football scheduling.

With the Big Ten's May meetings complete, not much breaking news came out of the summit held at the league's new offices in suburban Chicago.

Still, there was plenty on the plate of each of the league's ADs, including Ohio State's Gene Smith. The Buckeye director of athletics and vice president discussed what happened this week with BuckeyeSports.com after his return to Columbus.

Student-Athlete Welfare
With the NCAA in the midst of major changes, this was one of the hottest topics when the league's ADs got together.

In April, the NCAA's board of directors approved a plan that would give autonomy to the five power conferences, something Smith was happy to see.

"I'm really excited that we are going to get to a point where we can look at what things we can do for student-athlete welfare – everywhere from health insurance, (reducing) time demands, to cost of attendance, complimentary tickets on an increased level – whatever it is, we're going to be able to address those issues and not be held back by trying to create a level playing field or cost issues," Smith said.

"I'm pleased. We've gotten further along than I thought we'd ever get."

One of the biggest pieces of legislation the highest revenue-producing schools would like to implement involves increasing scholarships to cover the true cost of attendance. Figuring out exactly what that means at each school remains to be seen, with Smith thinking the answer will come once the new NCAA structure is formally approved in August.

"You can hold on to the principles and essence of the collegiate model, but the collegiate model has to adjust to the 21st century." - Gene Smith

"I think there will be more clarity on all this stuff once we get past the August vote and someone actually introduced a piece of legislation," the Ohio State AD said. "All of us right now are spending time with our financial aid offices trying to understand how they calculate cost of attendance because it's different everywhere, so everybody is in learning mode. Then I think what you'll see is after the vote in August, a conference or two will submit a piece of legislation that will really begin to ramp up the conversation on what a cost of attendance model will look like."

There was also discussion on other ways to improve the student-athlete experience, with the athletics directors hearing from the league's Student-Athlete Advisory Committee representative about how athletes would like more time off to pursue things like internships and study-abroad programs.

Ohio State instituted both internship and study-abroad programs in its athletics department last summer, and Smith said he's also intrigued by growing talk nationally about instituting stricter time limits on athletics activities. One plan would even allow athletes to have a month off during the summer.

"I think we have to look at it," he said. "We've talked about the issue in front of our coaches and asked them to begin to think about and have discussion with their colleagues and their associations and start to just really think about it. We do have to try to find a way to create some space, and it's different for each sport. That's where we have to be careful, but to me, we need to keep trying to find these windows of time where a student-athlete has some down time.

"Whether they want to work out on their own in their down time, that's up to them, but we want to create that window of time where what they do voluntarily is their choice. Right now, there's a blurred line between voluntary and mandatory."

The amount of time athletes spend on their sports was one of the reasons cited when a local branch of the National Labor Relations Board voted to allow Northwestern athletes to unionize, just one of the many continuing attacks on the college athletics model out there.

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said his league would "aggressively defend" the collegiate model after the meetings this week, and Smith feels that with the athlete-friendly changes that are coming, the NCAA will be in position to continue to defend its way of life.

"You can hold on to the principles and essence of the collegiate model, but the collegiate model has to adjust to the 21st century," Smith said. "Intercollegiate athletics has changed. We need to shift within the model in recognition of that change. The student-athletes have changed, the families have changed, the K-12 system has changed, society has changed.

"Our scholarship model is four decades old, so that's why it's so important to get this autonomy because the bureaucracy of 351 schools and 32 conferences makes it impossible to change the way we need to change."

Going East
The Big Ten announced last week that it will move its basketball tournament to Washington D.C. starting in 2017, the latest step in welcoming Rutgers and Maryland into the league and expanding its relevance on the east coast.

While Smith said he has grown fond of events held in Indianapolis – which stages the league's football title game and has co-hosted the basketball tournament with Chicago since its inception – he is in favor of continuing to market the Big Ten on the eastern seaboard.

"It makes good sense for us to take our contest and take some of our jewels like our championships out to that market," Smith said. "It's going to have an impact by having those there because people are going to be excited about them. We think it's going to be pretty exciting when our teams are there in a new venue and the fans who are Big Ten fans on the east coast, they have a chance to gravitate toward that tournament. I think it's going to be an outstanding experience for our student-athletes and for the fans out there."

Still, there are no immediate plans to move the football game that direction, Smith said.

"There is a heavy lean to Indianapolis," he said. "There was a discussion about Detroit with their indoor facility, so we talked about somewhere down the road possibly putting it out to bid."

Scheduling Issues
The league's ADs also discussed struggles in filling future nonconference schedules. While the Big Ten will switch to nine-game league slates in 2016, some conference teams are having trouble filling the open dates.

Smith said the situation is in part because of the league's new policy against scheduling FCS teams, while the fact that conferences like the SEC have stuck with eight league games has helped dry up inventory when it comes to nonconference contests.

"If they went to nine, it meant they only had three nonconference games each, which means there's more inventory in the marketplace," Smith said. "They are staying at eight, and you have all those schools trying to get four nonconference games, and the significant majority of them are trying to get them in the same window in September."

Smith said Ohio State has lost out on attempts to schedule some targeted schools in the 2015 and '16 slates, while the Big Ten schools with smaller stadiums are handicapped because they can't pay the guarantees of places like Ohio State and Michigan and thus must wait for those schools to finish their schedules.

OSU's work to put together its upcoming schedules was also hurt by a pair of since-completed scheduling moratoriums – one after the league tried to set up a scheduling agreement with the Pac-12 and another when it was making the decision to go from eight Big Ten games to nine.

"If you look at next year's schedule, that schedule is representative of the problems we had," he said. "We couldn't get some teams we wanted on those dates. That year was compounded because we had two moratoriums. We had a window of time we weren't scheduling. So this year and next year in particular, we really got trapped. We really couldn't put together what we wanted, so '16 and out are going to look more like what we want to look like."

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