Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer.
COLUMBUS -- As coach Urban Meyer prepares to unveil his first Ohio State football team to the public today, Ohio Stadium's overworked turnstiles will provide the latest measure of the mania surrounding a new era.
More than 60,000 fans have already bought tickets to the exhibition, with tens of thousands more expected to challenge or surpass the spring game record crowd of 95,722 that filled the Horseshoe in 2009.
"The excitement is just incredible," said Jim Damschroder, owner of the Buckeye Store and More! in Sylvania, who is preparing to place his sixth order for a 75-count box of Meyer-themed T-shirts.
There is just one place where the superstar coach's arrival has yet to register: the Buckeyes' coffers.
Counter to intuition, an Ohio State official said this week the hiring of Meyer did not open the financial floodgates.
The Buckeyes' athletic department expects donors to contribute about $6 million less in the current fiscal year than the last. OSU raised $40.8 million between July 1, 2010, and June 30, 2011, according to school records, while the department this year is on track for its lowest fund-raising return since the economic downturn in 2008. Patrick Chun, senior associate athletic director for external affairs, said OSU projects about $35 million in contributions this year.
OSU raised $38.5 million in 2008 and 2009, $33 million in 2008, and a department-record $44 million in 2007 -- a fiscal year that included the Buckeyes' basketball and football teams advancing to the national championship game.
While the effect on fund-raising by the scandal that cost former football coach Jim Tressel his job and contributed to the Buckeyes' first seven-loss season since 1897 is unclear, Chun said OSU's core of boosters remained loyal through the teeth of the storm. He said the school did not expect Meyer's hiring to prompt an immediate surge in donations.
"When people think there are ebbs and flows or spikes or dips or valleys and peaks with fund-raising at an institution like ours, there actually isn't," Chun said. "Even with a losing record [last year], we were still sold out, and that doesn't happen at a lot of places. Fund-raising is similar to that. People love Ohio State because it's Ohio State."
Ohio State officials believe Meyer's real value will be seen in future years. They are counting on the two-time national champion coach to ensure that last season's descent to mediocrity is but a blip in the annals of OSU football.
Financially, the school can withstand one underwhelming year. For instance, the yet-to-be-released revenue figures from last year's football season likely will be similar to those from 2010. According to data from the U.S. Department of Education, OSU football generated $60.8 million in revenue, while the athletics department raked in a Big Ten-high $132 million -- second nationally to Texas -- between July, 2010, and June, 2011. (Ohio State football spent a league-high $34.4 million, while the athletic department spent $113 million, with an additional $17.2 million allocated to capital debt payment.)
A string of disappointing football seasons, however, would be more difficult for Ohio State to endure. Athletic director Gene Smith knew he needed to generate a jolt of goodwill among boosters and fans, and he paid $24.25 million over six years to land the hottest coaching free agent in sports.
Meyer may not stir warm feelings nationally. He has stepped on toes in the Big Ten and was the subject of a Sporting News investigation that questioned his methods during his six seasons at Florida. But across much of Ohio, the Ashtabula native is a Teflon-coated hero returning home. College Traditions, an apparel store in Columbus, sells no fewer than six different "Urban" T-shirts ("Urban Renewal," "Urbanation," "Urban Era").
"If you look at PR and all the other immeasurable," Chun said, "they are off the charts. There is such a good feeling with the hiring of Urban."
Meyer's aura especially translates to the recruiting scene, where Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said the coach has no equal.
"There's no doubt in my mind about it. He's number one," Farrell said. "There's a lot of very good coaches that can recruit. Jimbo Fisher [Florida State], Mack Brown [Texas], Lane Kiffin [Southern California], Mark Richt [Georgia], there are some tremendous recruiters. But Urban Meyer, in recruiting, he's a rock star. He's the guy everybody wants to see and who everybody wants to hear from."
"He's aggressive and relentless. He loves recruiting. A lot of head coaches don't. They see it as a necessary evil. But he absolutely loves it."
By signing day in February, Meyer had transformed a pedestrian recruiting class into one ranked fourth in the country by Rivals.com. He has persuaded at least 10 players pledged to other schools to become Buckeyes, including Central Catholic safety Jayme Thompson, who switched his commitment from West Virginia to OSU earlier this month.
"There have been new coaches who have come in their first year and closed fairly well in recruiting, but it's real difficult to do because you're behind the 8-ball," Farrell said. "For someone to come in and absolutely change the mind of so many kids who had made up their minds for so long, that's unprecedented."
If Meyer has his way, the next step is winning football games -- and, in turn, winning over boosters.
Bob Sebo, a Bowling Green and Ohio State booster, believes neither will be a problem.
"Everybody likes a winner, and everybody likes to say that's my school," he said. "And is Urban Meyer going to bring success to The Ohio State University football program? You bet."
Contact David Briggs at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.
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