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The Program
March 05, 2007
In the new Gilded Age of college sports, no school has done more with its money--or learned more from painful scandal--than mighty Ohio State, the standard against which all other schools are judged
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March 05, 2007

The Program

In the new Gilded Age of college sports, no school has done more with its money--or learned more from painful scandal--than mighty Ohio State, the standard against which all other schools are judged

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Notre Dame $61.4 $43.5
Texas $60.9 $42.5
Ohio State $60.8 $28.5
Georgia $58.7 $44.1
Auburn $51.6 $31.5

It's academic, really. Big money has changed college sports, transforming athletic departments into mini-industrial complexes. The level of commerce is such that some in Congress are questioning the tax-exempt status of athletic programs. But amid cries that all this lucre is ruining college sports, what if in some ways nearly the opposite is true? What if there's now so much money at stake that schools are policing themselves as never before? Though college athletics still face myriad problems--from ethics (page 67), to a wealth gap (page 59), to ongoing academic issues (page 62)--graduation rates are at an alltime high, and not since 2001 have so few schools been on NCAA probation. The Duke Effect (colleges tightly monitoring athletes' behavior to avoid a repeat of the Blue Devils' lacrosse-party disaster) only underscores how fearful schools now are of the consequences of letting their sports programs run amuck.

SI went to Ohio State to look inside the nation's largest athletic department. In the spirit of rivals Buckeyes teams as a unifying force on campus--what follows are profiles of nine figures representative of an athletic department adapting to a new world. >>>>>

THE STAR | Greg Oden

? Keeps a poster of Charles Barkley on his dorm wall

? Eats mostly on campus but goes to Champps sports bar to have the grilled salmon "with that special sweet sauce on it"

? Partial to the music of Ciara and Tyrese

DAMN IF GREG ODEN isn't trying. Ohio State's freshman center has made every effort to lead the existence of a conventional college kid. He straps on a backpack and walks across the Oval, OSU's answer to a quad. He dresses with collegiate insouciance, outfitting himself in a hoodie and jeans, carrying his I.D. and keys on a lanyard around his neck. Surely he's not alone among OSU's nearly 39,000 undergrads when he claims to be chronically short of cash--though his finances aren't helped by his habit of buying, he says, "a few DVDs" every Tuesday. Like most undergrads, he cherishes his sleep, betrays a bottomless appetite for technology and, naturally, has his own page.

Oden, 19, is undoubtedly the only freshman on campus to entertain questions from journalists who have flown to Columbus from Beijing just to see him. But he is conscious of integrating himself into the college community. "I'm not just like, These [teammates] are my people, I'm not going to talk to anybody else on campus," he says. "I'm always open to new friends." Asked if he's having a true college experience, he strokes his beard and says in a thoughtful, measured cadence, "I think so."

Yet Oden's star status militates against his being just another member of the class of 2010. Just as sports are an essential thread in the university fabric but sometimes seem removed from the rest of the institution, Oden is the school's most prominent student but inhabits a world unimaginable to most other undergrads.

Start with his housing. Unlike most freshmen, Oden, who is from Indianapolis, has no roommate and lives mostly among athletes on a special floor of a high-rise dorm. He has a customized bed to accommodate his 7-foot frame. Then there's basketball. From October through March he spends more time each week in practice (up to 20 hours) than in the classroom (seven hours). If the Buckeyes, ranked No. 1 after a 49--48 home win against previously top-ranked Wisconsin on Sunday, reach the Final Four, he'll end up having spent almost a month on the road this season.

The perks, however, are abundant: charter flights to games, lavish pregame meals, a locker room flush with cedar paneling and loofahs hanging in the showers. Players spend the night before home games in a posh on-campus hotel, replete with turndown service and high-thread-count linens.

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