Ohio State got NCAA to finally use common sense and pay families

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Urban Meyer was halfway through a news conference here Tuesday when a school spokesman interrupted him to share some breaking news. Literally minutes after Meyer had once again pleaded for the powers-that-be to pay for players’ families to attend Monday’s College Football Playoff championship, both the CFP and NCAA issued press releases saying they’d found a way to do just that.

"That’s great news," said Meyer. "… That just kind of made my day."

It was Meyer’s boss, AD Gene Smith, who set in motion the chain of events that led to Tuesday’s unprecedented announcement of a seemingly common-sense initiative. On Saturday, Smith tweeted a statement saying he agreed with Meyer and would "initiate NCAA legislation to allow us to provide more financial assistance in the future for postseason trips."

On Monday morning, he got a call from NCAA president Mark Emmert and VP Mark Lewis offering to help make it happen in time for next week’s game.

"Shocked," Smith said Tuesday of the very un-NCAA rapid response.

The College Football Playoff will be footing the bill, which allows up to $1,250 in travel reimbursement for each parent or guardian of the Ohio State and Oregon players heading to Arlington, Texas, this weekend. Given the roughly $500 million a year the event generates in television revenue alone, that may seem like a no-brainer, but technically, doing so would have violated the NCAA’s extra benefits rule. Smith said Emmert and his team found an interpretation allowing the organization to grant a waiver.

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While they’re at it, they’re instituting a pilot program to pay up to $3,000 in families’ expenses for this year’s men’s and women’s Final Fours and $4,000 for the championship game.

Previously, Ohio State was planning to give each player’s family a one-time $800 stipend from an NCAA student-athlete assistance fund. Meyer was none too pleased.

"My family couldn’t go there [on] $800," he said. "[The] Big Ten office, imagine giving them $800 each and give our $800 all across the board. Our administration, you guys get $800, see you down there. I just don’t think that’s right. "

Kentucky coach John Calipari, among others, has been harping on this same issue for years. So … why did the NCAA finally do something now?

One word: timing.

The annual NCAA convention begins Jan. 15. It will be the first opportunity for the Power 5 conferences to enact their own legislation through a new autonomy process instituted last summer. When Smith made his comments over the weekend, it was easy to see this becoming a hot-button topic there.

Emmert, who’s nothing if not image conscious, likely saw an opportunity for the NCAA to be the good guy for a change.

Smith said Ohio State’s compliance office will work with its ticket office to verify that parents attended the game. They will then be reimbursed for flights, hotels and meals up to the limit. Going forward, he hopes the school or the playoff will be able to book their travel directly through an agency.

Smith said he doesn’t necessarily anticipate a similar program forthcoming for conference championships or other bowls. The larger membership would need to pass legislation, and there may be not necessarily be universal support among his colleagues.

"It’s a good start," he said.

Indeed. Whether or not Ohio State beats Oregon, it already scored one major victory for common sense.

Stewart Mandel is a senior college sports columnist for FOXSports.com. He covered college football and basketball for 15 years at Sports Illustrated. His new book, "The Thinking Fan’s Guide to the College Football Playoff," is now available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter @slmandel. Send emails and Mailbag questions to Stewart.Mandel@fox.com.