'Ohio State's got a huge advantage:' Urban Meyer, with concerns, favors new NIL rights

Bill Rabinowitz
The Columbus Dispatch
Urban Meyer, seen here with successor Ryan Day, is a proponent of the new name, image and likeness rules, though he has some concerns.

Urban Meyer has always been in favor of expanded financial opportunities for college athletes.

As Ohio State coach, he fought for what he could, including a successful push during the Buckeyes’ 2014 College Football Playoff run to have the NCAA provide a stipend to players’ parents to defray the prohibitive cost of attending both playoff games.

Meyer is now in the NFL as Jacksonville Jaguars coach, but he remains connected to Ohio State and keenly interested in the college game.

He is in favor of the change allowing players to be compensated for their name, image and likeness. But he also sees potential dangers.

“No. 1 is the mental health of a player,” Meyer said. “I've seen the added pressure once families are reliant upon a player to make it to the NFL and he doesn't. I've witnessed that first-hand.”

He said NIL will add another layer of pressure. Some families will push their kids to maximize their earning potential, he fears. That could be an overwhelming and unfair burden.

If a player does make money from NIL, that’s taxable income. College kids aren’t necessarily known for being financially savvy, and it’s important for them to have proper guidance.

“It’s no longer an ‘oops’ if you have a tax issue,” Meyer said. “You go to jail.”

He also is concerned about the effect NIL could have on locker-room chemistry. If some teammates are making substantial money and others aren’t, that could breed envy.

“(If) you have a guy in a locker room making $500,000 and everyone else making nothing, are they still motivated to go to school and get a degree?” he said. “Are they still motivated to put team ahead of self?

“I think some teams will be greatly influenced by that. The real strong cultures will be fine. But you have to be careful who you recruit because at the end of the day, this job is to win games and how you win games, selfless players a big part of it.”

Urban Meyer says coaches should keep an eye on their players' mental health in the new age of the ability to earn income. “I've seen the added pressure once families are reliant upon a player to make it to the NFL and he doesn't. I've witnessed that first-hand.”

Meyer said he put an emphasis on recruiting players who would fit Ohio State’s culture. He formed tight relationships with many players’ families, but he was wary of hangers-on, people he called “third uncles.” Meyer said he stopped recruiting several talented players after he became concerned about some of those shadowy people. Those third uncles are now even more likely to pop out of the woodwork.

Meyer believes Ohio State is ideally positioned to benefit from NIL because of its status as an elite program and location. Columbus has a metropolitan area of more than 2 million people. Alabama is in Tuscaloosa, which has a metropolitan area of just over 200,000. Clemson, South Carolina, has fewer than 20,000 residents with the nearest city, Greenville, 45 minutes away.

“I think Ohio State's got a huge advantage,” he said.

Early in Meyer’s tenure, OSU started its Real Life Wednesday to prepare players for a post-football career.

“Our whole approach for seven years was to maximize the players’ value,” he said. “But that was not name and likeness. That was for post-grad opportunity — internships, shadow opportunities.”

That program was a game-changer in recruiting because Meyer could show parents that their sons would be prepared for life after Ohio State even if an NFL career didn’t materialize.

“To me that changed Ohio State's recruiting,” he said. “We were able to showcase what the great city of Columbus can do for you — if you just take care of your business — with job opportunities and that whole program we put together. That's when you start going into Georgia and beating Georgia for players, going to Texas and beating Texas for players. I think this is going to be even bigger boon for Ohio State because of the corporate opportunities in Columbus.”

Given the size of Columbus and the passion for the Buckeyes throughout Ohio, the opportunities might seem endless.

“The only thing that stops it is the marketplace,” Meyer said. “If it's not a good business decision for (a business), I can't imagine just giving money away. But once again, that's something that all of us are going to watch and learn.”