‘The O Foundation’ created to support Ohio State men’s basketball, NIL deals
Courtesy The Columbus Dispatch
By Adam Jardy
October 3, 2022
“How many national championships does football have?”
Sitting inside an office building he purchased in 2010, Ron Stokes posed the question to a nine-man crowd that included a half-dozen members of the Ohio State men’s basketball team. The exact answer wasn’t relevant, only the disparity that came into focus with the follow-up that underscored why everyone was gathered around an oval-shaped wooden conference table on a Thursday afternoon in mid-September.
“We love Ohio State, and we know that we’ve got a great football program,” Stokes said. “Our basketball program has one national championship. We want to try to catch up a little bit.”
To try and address that goal, those on hand were gathered to commence a business partnership. Justice Sueing, Zed Key, Brice Sensabaugh, Felix Okpara, Bruce Thornton and Roddy Gayle had gathered to put pen to paper and sign name, image and likeness deals with the newly created The O Foundation (www.the-o-foundation.org/). The collective isn’t the first to partner with current Ohio State student-athletes to allow them to profit from their NIL rights, but it is the first to explicitly target a men’s basketball program that operates within the shadow of one of the nation’s preeminent football programs.
Stokes understands that as well as anyone. Entering his 26th season as expert analyst for the Ohio State men’s basketball radio network, Stokes was a two-time team captain from Canton who averaged 10.3 points from 1981-85 and remains connected to the program.
The success of the Ohio State men’s basketball program is personally important to Stokes. So as the NCAA has allowed student-athletes to sign NIL deals, Stokes saw an opportunity to combine his business acumen with his passion for the Buckeyes.
“Our focus is, let’s try to help the program bring in top-level student-athletes,” Stokes said. “We know that the NIL piece is not the only reason kids will choose a school, but it’s part of the equation now. We felt as a group, let’s create something specifically for men’s basketball where we can support Chris Holtmann and his staff and these charities in helping the student-athletes.”
That desire, coupled with the involvement of former Buckeyes Mike Conley, D’Angelo Russell, Matt Terwilliger and Evan Turner, helped create The O Foundation. Financial details were not disclosed, but Stokes used the phrase “sizeable dollars” to describe the funding donated by the former Ohio State players.
Entrepreneur Bill Lewis is a board member and Chris O’Shaughnessy, founder of The O’Shaughnessy Law Firm, is treasurer. Both longtime friends of Stokes’ were on hand as the Buckeyes signed their contracts, took photos and recorded videos to use to help raise awareness for the organization.
When The O Foundation created its NIL contracts, O’Shaughnessy said they submitted them first to Ohio State and then to the NCAA before proceeding further. Signed copies then went to both the university and the players.
After officially signing their paperwork, the players listened to Stokes detail things like what a W-9 form is and how those who drove to the meeting can deduct the mileage on their taxes. Even though Lewis joked that Sueing is 32 years old, the desire to overcommunicate details comes from a desire to make sure all the players fully understand the situation.
“Main thing is we’ve got to be competitive,” Lewis said. “NIL is here. It’s not going away anytime soon.”
Asked how hard it’s been to get established within the NIL marketplace, Lewis said, “I would say it’s not been easy to do things right. We’re doing things right.”
Like The Foundation, which primarily partners with Ohio State football players but also works with men’s basketball as well, The O Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that allows all donations to be tax-deductible. Although the players are free to suggest others, The O Foundation is partnered with three charities they can work with: A Kid Again, the Columbus Urban League and the After-School All-Stars.
That element, with the backing of the former Buckeyes, made Sueing want to get involved.
“The O Foundation is a great outlet and a blessing to be a part of because not only is it aimed to support us as players for the university but it shows how connected and how previous players and people have been involved with the program embrace the culture here,” Sueing said. “To have guys like ET (Evan Turner) and Mike (Conley) to be a part of this foundation, it shows to us how much it matters to them about this culture of winning here at Ohio State as well as to other people who might be making their decision to come to this university.”
Sueing’s last thought underscores the ambiguity of the current NIL landscape. Coaches can have limited direct contact with collectives and are not allowed to use NIL benefits as recruiting inducements. When Sensabaugh committed to Ohio State, the potential to make money while playing for the Buckeyes was just one of many factors he said he considered.
“I think it’s important to look past NIL for a little bit and make sure you’re in the right environment with the right people around you and the right situation,” he said. “I committed to Ohio State because of that and The O Foundation fell right behind it. It’s like a trickle effect.”
Therein lies a driving force in establishing The O Foundation. Ohio State has a top-10 national recruiting class set to sign in November, and while those players can’t yet partner with the collective, those opportunities will be there when the four-man class arrives on campus next summer.
The hope is that that class, and the classes that follow, will feel that they are part of a well-supported program.
“As a recruit, you want to go somewhere where you feel like the culture is embraced, where you feel like everyone is involved,” Sueing said. “Seeing former players involved with you on a regular basis is something that can obviously be attracting to know you’re going to be a part of something that’s not only a part of The Ohio State University but you’re part of a strong brotherhood as well.”
- Black Father-Daughter Dance chance to make memories
- Father-daughter dance ‘the crown jewel’ of Black Girl Dad Week, Feb. 12-18
- Dispatch Guest Column: Stop ‘cancelling’ others. It’s time to rise above mistrust, open our minds and listen.
- Columbus Urban League planning to continue program to help youths stay out of crime
- Columbus looks to strengthen its neighborhood violence prevention program