It took Evan Turner 37 games to earn national player of the year honors during his final basketball season with Ohio State. This was in 2009-10, and the nation had an opportunity to see Turner and his teammates every time they took the court.
Those national television audiences saw the games. They didn’t, however, see the balance in Turner’s bank account, or those of his fellow unpaid teammates.
“A lot of athletes come from situations where we’re blessed to have a scholarship but we also don’t have money for little things, little necessities,” Turner said Wednesday in an interview with The Dispatch. “I remember playing on national TV some nights in college and, you know, everything might not have been straight at home or straight in my bank account.
“It wasn’t like I need new shoes or I need this, that or the other. It was a legit thing: I might only have 10 bucks.”
It’s why Turner, now 10 years into his NBA career, was excited to hear the announcement that the NCAA is recommending allowing student-athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness. Specific details on oversight and guidelines are still being formulated, but the NCAA is planning to institute the changes for the start of the 2021-22 academic year.
How much it will impact any specific player is guesswork at best. At the other end of the bench from Turner, former Ohio State walk-on Mark Titus started his “Club Trillion” blog near the midpoint of his college career. It has since garnered more than 2 million views and, during his senior year, was averaging 50,000 hits a day.
Under the current proposed changes, Titus likely would have been allowed to bring in sponsors for the blog.
“I had no scholarship, but I was also told by compliance I couldn’t make a dime off of any T-shirt sales or blog ads or anything like that,” he said. “I remember thinking, ‘This is so weird.’
“It’s going to be fascinating to see the ripple effects. I can see a lot of different guys getting more drastic with attention-seeking, which will be funny, too.”
At the Big Ten men’s basketball media day last season, Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann expressed his support for the notion of allowing players to profit from such situations. He also openly wondered what impact it might have on a locker room in which some players will be earning more money than others.
The concept hasn’t always been an issue. Former Ohio State football player Chris Spielman said player compensation wasn’t discussed much during his college career from 1984-87 because the money around the sport wasn’t what it is now.
“I’m not saying woe is me, but if my parents sent me 10 bucks a week, it was a good week,” he said. “It’s not like we (college athletes) want a salary, but if somebody wants to use our name, image and likeness, that’s something we were born with. And if we want to capitalize on that, I think they should have the right to capitalize on that.”
After two seasons as the leading scorer and rebounder for Ohio State, Kaleb Wesson is weighing his NBA future while retaining his eligibility. A Westerville South product and the third member of his family to play for the Buckeyes, it’s not hard to envision a scenario in which Wesson’s face could have adorned billboards around Columbus during his career.
He told The Dispatch he’s not sure the proposed changes, which wouldn’t go into effect until his eligibility would be finished, would impact his pending NBA decision.
Similarly, Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields could be facing a situation where, should there not be a football season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the potential to continue to make money as a member of the Buckeyes could conceivably factor into decisions about his future.
So while the specifics are still to be ironed out, Wednesday’s announcement was greeted with optimism by former Buckeyes.
“It’s going to be a completely different college experience than what it was before,” Wesson said. “Maybe it might just be local businesses that can endorse players. I’d definitely want to hear more about the rule.”
Dispatch Reporter Bill Rabinowitz contributed to this story.