Ohio State deputy athletic director Diana Sabau hired by Big Ten

Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith talks with Diana Sabau at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center on Oct. 23, 2017. Sabau is leaving OSU after 27 years to work as the Big Ten's deputy commissioner and chief sports officer.

Ohio State senior deputy athletic director Diana Sabau is leaving to join the conference office at the Big Ten.

The league announced Monday morning that she had been hired as its deputy commissioner and chief sports officer.

In the role, Sabau is to oversee the administration of the 28 varsity sports sponsored by the Big Ten and will begin on May 1.

A staff member in Ohio State’s athletic department for 27 years, Sabau had been the second-highest ranking administrator and top administrator for football since 2017, involved in scheduling and budgeting team travel.

"Ohio State has been my lifeblood," Sabau told The Dispatch. "Ohio State makes my heart sing. Ohio State student-athletes is all I've done for a long time.

"So I didn't have to leave Ohio State. I chose to leave, not only to grow myself professionally, but to be involved with something I'm very passionate about, and that's the Big Ten Conference.

"This is an opportunity that helps me build and protect and transform the future of the Big Ten."

Buckeyes athletic director Gene Smith said her departure was not unexpected, noting she had interviewed for athletic director openings at other schools in recent years and stood as a prime candidate for a promotion.

“It’s a loss for us,” Smith said, “but I always knew it was a matter of time. She was going to be in a position like this or be an athletic director somewhere. I’m happy for her. This is her next evolution in the business.”

Some of Sabau’s biggest impact in football administration came in recent years in setting up future nonconference home-and-home series with marquee Southeastern Conference opponents Alabama and Georgia.

The Crimson Tide’s visit to Columbus in 2027 will mark the first time the schools have met on either campus.

In addition to working with football, Sabau supervised other sports, including women’s ice hockey and the rifle and pistol programs.

“Diana is unique,” Smith said. “She has a lot of skill sets that people just don't have — her attention to detail, her get-it-done mentality, her understanding of all facets of our department. She basically started in sports information back in the day.

“So she really evolved, to working with me on contracts and third-party agreements. She's really just over the years become involved in almost everything we do. And her relationship with football has really just been outstanding.”

Smith said there was no timetable for finding her replacement, nor a significant rush. She will remain at Ohio State through April before the academic year winds down. He was also unsure if he would make an internal promotion or search for an outside candidate.

“I’m just starting to process and to think through structurally what I’m going to do moving forward,” Smith said.

Sabau saw her promotion to a deputy role at Ohio State on the heels of Martin Jarmond’s departure from the department in 2017.

After three years as the athletic director at Boston College, Jarmond left last year to lead UCLA’s athletic department.

Several other former top administrators under Smith during his tenure have become athletic directors at other schools, including Pat Chun at Washington State and Heather Lyke at Pittsburgh.

Smith thought Sabau’s experience would be significant for the Big Ten and its members in the coming years.

“It adds another person, or one person, who has been on a college campus for a long period of time and seen every element of athletics, from communications to social media to contracts, sports, hiring, student-athlete issues,” he said. “She’s going to bring the campus experience to that team. That will be invaluable, not just for Ohio State, but all the schools in the conference.”

Kevin Warren, who is in his second year as the league’s commissioner, previously worked in the NFL as the chief operating officer for the Minnesota Vikings and in other front-office roles, but had not worked in college athletics. 

He faced much criticism in 2020 after the Big Ten voted to cancel the fall football season in August and reversed course after most other major conferences decided to move forward with a season. Ohio State, along with Iowa and Nebraska, pushed the conference to reconsider.

Sabau is one of several new hires announced by the Big Ten on Monday.

She said it was a difficult decision to leave Ohio State.

"I love this community," Sabau said. "My family loves this community. But this is a fantastic opportunity."

Men's hockey team loses

The Ohio State men’s hockey team ended its season with a 4-0 loss to Michigan in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament on Sunday in South Bend, Indiana.

Michigan, the No. 3 seed, got two goals from freshman Brendan Brisson, and goalie Strauss Mann made 26 saves. Ohio State, the No. 6 seed, finished 7-19-1.

The Buckeyes had just 13 shots in the first two periods but matched that in the third. They had a five-minute major power play in the final 10 minutes of regulation but were unable to convert, and Michigan (15-9-1) scored into an empty net just after the power play expired to extend the lead to four.

Ohio State senior goalie Tommy Nappier made 35 saves.

“I was really proud of these guys," Ohio State coach Steve Rohlik said. "No one knows what this group has gone through. To be here and have the opportunity to play in this tournament; again, I’m just proud of the group and proud of these six seniors. They don’t get enough credit for the footprint they are leaving at Ohio State. They are as important of a class as we’ve had. They were going for four tournaments in a row and we just couldn’t get the job done.”