The NCAA and Big Ten are undergoing major changes, and Thad Matta has taken notice even though he has just over a month to prepare his team for its season opener.
The Ohio State men’s basketball coach sat down with The Lantern on Wednesday to discuss his thoughts on paying players, the strength of Big Ten basketball and the upcoming Buckeye basketball season.
Players ‘given a lot,’ but still deserving
When the Ed O’Bannon trial — which went up against the NCAA’s use of student-athlete likenesses — ended over the summer, one thing was clear: student-athletes will be paid in the future.
With the decision, players could earn up to $5,000 a year based off the athletic department’s income, which would be a significant change. But for Matta, “it is what it is.”
“I understand where the players come from, I think that it’s probably a good thing in terms of what these guys are asked to do,” Matta said of the potential for paying players.
He said student-athletes have different expectations that average students wouldn’t necessarily need to worry about, especially when it comes to start times for games running late at night.
“So these guys are asked to do a lot that … a normal student isn’t,” Matta said.
While student-athletes do not earn a salary or receive pay from their universities, most — especially at a Division I school like OSU — receive extensive financial aid and support, including coverage of the school’s tuition costs.
“Now, they’re given a lot, don’t get me wrong on that,” Matta said. “But I think from the standpoint of trying to help these guys out a little bit, I’m all for it.”
The O’Bannon decision came just weeks before the Big Ten proposed changes to the NCAA that would include schools being required to cover the full cost of attendance for student-athletes. It would also require schools to guarantee scholarships for a full four years and allow players to return to the university later on to complete their degree if they leave school before graduating.
On Wednesday, the conference released a statement saying the decision to guarantee scholarships through degree completion had become official.
Matta said he’s found it amusing to hear about other schools announcing they would guarantee scholarships because “Ohio State’s being doing it for years.”
“I think that’s kind of the beauty of what this university stands for, where they want to take care of those that have given to the program,” Matta said. “I laughed when I saw schools announcing that and I’m reading it and I’m saying, ‘We’ve been doing this for 10 years and nobody ever knew about it.’”
‘Now they’re getting like college basketball’
In recent years, football in the Big Ten has not been at its peak.
The same can’t be said about basketball, and said he’s perfectly aware of how strong the conference is on the hardwood.
“It is what it is, and going into my 11th season now, the one thing I’ve learned about being in the Big Ten is there’s no game on your conference schedule that you look at and say, ‘I know we’re going to win this game,’” he said. “But I think that brings out the best in coaching. I think that brings out the best in your players.”
In most years, the teams playing for the NCAA football championship will have no losses, or at most, two. In college basketball, that is rarely the case as the rankings flip-flop throughout the season and teams rise and fall.
Over the weekend, the landscape of college football took a shift when five of the top 10 teams in the Associated Press top 25 poll lost, making for an almost completely new set of teams slotting in at No. 2 through No. 5 — and Matta took notice.
“I thought it was funny Saturday when I looked at the college football scores, I said, ‘Ahh, now they’re getting like college basketball,’” Matta said. “When (five) of the top 10 teams lose, the competitiveness across the country is becoming what we deal with on a daily basis.”
He also said the strength of Big Ten basketball in the collegiate landscape is — at least in part — because of the locations of the schools in the conference compared to where the hotbeds for basketball are throughout the country.
“Some of the all-time greatest players are from the Midwest,” he said. “Well, that’s where the Big Ten’s located and I think that’s something a lot of people forget about.”
For OSU, being located in the Midwest can be a plus when it comes to recruiting, even in the Buckeyes’ own backyard.
There are currently four Ohio natives listed on the OSU’s men’s basketball roster — freshman forward Jae’Sean Tate, sophomore forward Marc Loving, freshman center David Bell and senior forward Jake Lorbach. Aside from Lorbach, each of those players were recruited by Matta to OSU from in the state, but the OSU coach said he doesn’t necessarily focus on recruiting Ohio players unless they are a good fit.
“Would I like to recruit inside 270 every year? Yeah, it would save my body a lot of wear and tear on travel,” Matta said. “But you have to go find the players that are going to fit the university, that are going to fit your system and are going to fit the needs that you have.”
OSU is scheduled to begin its season Nov. 14 against the University of Massachusetts-Lowell at the Schottenstein Center. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.