Chance 'to compete at highest level' draws new athletics director to Ohio State

Jan. 17—COLUMBUS — Ross Bjork said he was happy as director of athletics at Texas A&M.

The chance to jump to Ohio State was too good to pass up, though.

"The timing may not be ideal, but the stop is ideal for family and for family history," Bjork said Wednesday afternoon at an introductory press conference at the Covelli Center on campus.

In attendance were his wife, two sons and more than a dozen family members, including some who still call Ohio home after his grandfather settled in Hancock County in northwest Ohio in 1851.

"If one move can be surrounded by all of this, this was it," he said. "Plus my mom Linda, if I woulda told her six months from now yeah Ohio State called, I woulda been disowned from the family."

Bjork grew up in Kansas and played football at Division II Emporia State, which is in Emporia, Kansas.

He spent the last five years at TAMU after eight as AD at Mississippi and three at Western Kentucky.

Ted Carter, who took over at Ohio State University President at the beginning of January, picked Bjork from a group of finalists produced by a search committee that began work late last year after Gene Smith announced his intention to retire.

Smith's tenure officially runs through June 30, at which point Bjork will take over.

Between now and then, the 51-year-old plans to immerse himself in OSU to learn the ins and outs of a department that took in more than $250 million in revenue in 2022 (the last year available) and maintains 36 varsity sports, among the most in the nation.

Bjork has not worked in Ohio previously, but he recalled fondly annual family treks to his mother's home for holidays and said he already understands some important aspects of being part of Buckeye Nation.

"I get it. I know what we say, 'The School Up North,'" he said in reference to Michigan. "I totally will get it, and every single day, we will be ready and prepared."

"But why else Ohio State? Compete at the highest level. Be a leader in intercollegiate athletics in the future of all of this. Embrace high expectations. That's why we looked at this. The broad spectrum of responsibilities is not just athletics. You're a leader in this community in a meaningful way that's more than just athletics. I respect Gene Smith so much. I revere the honor of following him and then living in a great city. So at the end of the analysis, The Ohio State University led us to here."

Smith, who replaced Andy Geiger at Ohio State in 2005, produced many proteges who were considered candidates to replace him at the time he announced his retirement plans, but Carter went his own way in tapping Bjork after interviewing multiple finalists, who were not named.

"There's no replacing Gene Smith," said Carter, who was born in Rhode Island and was superintendent of the Naval Academy from 2014 until becoming president of the University of Nebraska system in 2019. "We did seek to find someone to build on his legacy and position our student-athletes to win athletically, academically and in everything they do.

"I want everyone to know that when I did these interviews for this vaulted position, I was looking for three things: Somebody that could come in and be a leader in a complex space, a university that has 36 DI programs, 1,000 student athletics, a revenue stream of over $250 million.

"I needed somebody who can understand this ever-changing landscape of college athletics, of name/image/likeness, of potential revenue sharing (with athletes). The changing landscape of conference expansion. Expansion of the college football playoff and changes in NCAA structure and governance. And finally as the Big Ten is going to 18 universities I needed somebody that could come in and carry the true weight of the Ohio State University in that locker room of athletic directors, and that person I found: Ross Bjork."

Bjork is set to serve as senior advisor to the senior vice president (Smith) from March 1-June 30.

He will have a salary of $175,000 per month during that time and receive up to $25,000 for moving expenses along with a temporary living allowance of $2,500 per month.

On July 1, Bjork will begin a five-year contract that includes a base salary of $1,650,000, $350,000 annually for media appearances, $50,000 for fringe benefits and $10,000 for travel costs along with bonuses for athletic and academic achievements.