In the parents' letters, their anguish is clear. In their voices is a palpable sense of frustration. On one hand, they are filled with pride and joy. Their sons - Ohio State football players - have reached the pinnacle of their sport by qualifying for the inaugural College Football Playoff. But they also are filled with painful resignation.

In the parents' letters, their anguish is clear. In their voices is a palpable sense of frustration.

On one hand, they are filled with pride and joy. Their sons - Ohio State football players - have reached the pinnacle of their sport by qualifying for the inaugural College Football Playoff.

But they also are filled with worry and, in some cases, painful resignation. When Ohio State travels to New Orleans for its Jan. 1 semifinal game against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, many of the players' parents can't afford the financial burden to be there. The ones who will make the trek are sweating about the bills they will incur.

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They all believe there should be a better way, that a College Football Playoff financial system that will pay each major conference a minimum of $50 million should have found a way to ensure that the parents could attend.

Except for an $800 per family reimbursement from Ohio State out of its student-assistant fund, parents are on their own for travel to the Sugar Bowl and, if Ohio State defeats Alabama, the national championship game in Arlington, Texas, on Jan. 12.

Connie Bennett, the mother of senior defensive tackle Michael Bennett, called it "reprehensible" that the parents' plight has been overlooked.

"They're making hand-over-fist dollars on our guys, the guys take all of the risk for the entertainment dollars and they ignore their families altogether," she said.

Parents interviewed say they are grateful for the $800 from Ohio State, but that amount might not even cover airfare from Columbus to New Orleans.

"I think about 70 percent of our parents, as it stands, won't be able to attend the game," said Annie Apple, whose son, Eli, is a freshman cornerback.

Annie and Tim Apple live in New Jersey and have traveled to every home Buckeyes game, as well as the Navy, Maryland and Penn State road games. She estimates that travel has cost about $15,000.

But regular-season games can be budgeted for and planned in advance. Not so for the postseason. Parents found out about Ohio State's destination the same time as everyone else, setting off a scramble to see if the trip could be affordable.

In a lot of cases, they are finding that it's not. Travel prices tend to rise for the holidays, and prices spiked for the New Orleans trip.

"Watching the prices of plane tickets change in the course of every 15 minutes, it was just ridiculous," said Candice Lee, the mother of freshman linebacker Darron Lee. "I went from a $500 ticket to an $800 ticket. I started looking at hotels and I said, 'There's no way.' I'm fortunate that I have a friend in New Orleans. I can stay with her. A lot of parents don't have that luxury."

The Apples are vice presidents of the Ohio State football parents association. The group has sent a letter to the Big Ten that included notes from OSU parents asking for help.

"After all the hard work raising them, shuttling them around the country to camps and away games, it hurts to not be able to celebrate the fruits of not only the boys' efforts, but the family's efforts as a whole," said one letter from a parent, whose name was redacted. "We families have entrusted you with our boys and expect you to look out for their best interests. I pray you will consider rewarding their efforts with support to ensure their family is there to support them during this amazing experience in their lives."

Another letter ends, "We want to support our boys and be inside the Superdome game day! Please help us get there!!"

But the NCAA, the Big Ten and Ohio State say that their hands are tied.

NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn said that schools can use the student-athlete advisory fund for the purpose of defraying costs as part of the autonomy gained by the so-called Power Five conferences.

Big Ten associate commissioner for communications Scott Chipman also said that, for now, the student assistant fund was the only means of providing financial assistance.

"Long-term, we have committed to examining benefits provided to student-athletes as part of the 'autonomy' governance structure," Chipman said, "and that will include an examination of assistance, where appropriate, to parents and legal guardians of student-athletes."

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has been outspoken in his belief that funds should be devoted to make sure that parents can attend the College Football Playoff games. He began his opening remarks on Sunday by saying that was a major concern of his.

But nothing can be done beyond the $800 until the Power Five conferences formulate an agreement to provide more assistance. That is likely to happen, but it doesn't help parents now.

"We would love to have more flexibility in this area," said Doug Archie, Ohio State's associate athletic director for compliance.

Players' parents believe that Ohio State's desire is sincere.

"Gene Smith said if he could do it, he would," Annie Apple said, referring to Ohio State's athletic director. "I honestly believe him."

Parents know that sympathy for their cause might not be universal. Their sons, after all, are getting a full scholarship. But a scholarship does not cover all expenses, and players' parents understand the commitment that their sons have made to reach this point.

"My son is on an athletic scholarship but is not getting a 'free' education," said Dawn Elliott, running back Ezekiel Elliott's mother. "He is working for every penny of that scholarship. I was a student-athlete (running track at Missouri), and your sport is just like a job.

"The time and work that one dedicates does not leave much time to enjoy college in the way that a typical college student might. A lot of times, you have to choose whether to eat, study or sleep in your free time because there are just not enough hours in the day.

"With the millions that are being made to watch these athletes play, with jersey sales, etc., the parents should be able to attend the games."

Candice Lee said the pride in seeing her son's face flashed on the video board at the Big Ten championship game was overwhelming. She knows that sharing such an event with her son is special for parents and player.

"What kid does not want to see their parents at the game?" she said. "The boys, as tough as they are, you can see it on their face (if you're not there). You can read it."

So as many parents as possible will be there, even if the cost is giving them pause.

"No one has an extra 10 grand in disposable income just sitting around collecting dust," Annie Apple said. "I told my (13-year-old) daughter, 'You're getting all your Christmas gifts at the dollar store.' I'm joking about that, but we are going to have to cut expenses.

"If we are family, we have to be treated as such. Ohio State is representing the Big Ten on the biggest stage, and you cannot value these players' families and make sure they have a place to stay and not have it be a huge burden? I don't understand that."


brabinowitz@dispatch.com

@brdispatch