Terrelle Pryor in the pocket_v Iowa_2009.jpg

Who do you think foots the bill when a university hires attorneys to defend its student–athletes?

Ohio State University’s student newspaper—The Lantern—ran a story earlier this week about the outrageous legal fees the school has paid thus far in defending various football players against alleged NCAA rules infractions.

The “Sports Illustrated 9″ refers to nine current players, separate from the six players suspended for “Tattoo-gate,” “whose alleged wrongdoing might fall within the NCAA’s four-year statute of limitations,” according to a June 6 SI article.

OSU’s athletics department paid the fees out of its general operations fund, which student fees do not go toward, said Dan Wallenberg, associate athletics director for communications.

[Wallenberg] also said the funds for similar services could come out of the Student-Athlete Opportunity Fund, which was created by the NCAA in 2003 to provide direct benefits to student–athletes or their families, and is generated by NCAA basketball tournament revenue.

The benefactor of this particular transaction is the Columbus law firm of Crabbe Brown & James LLP, which has reportedly received “$141,814.30 as of mid-September.” That number is quite small compared with, for example, the amount Ohio State paid the Vorys law firm from 2004–2008 to defend them against former basketball coach Jim O’Brien’s wrongful termination lawsuit (well over a million bucks).

By comparison, Auburn University paid $170K in legal fees while the NCAA investigated 2010 Heisman trophy winner Cam Newton’s eligibility. And the University of Michigan paid over $600,000 in legal fees in an NCAA infractions case involving former head football coach Rich Rodriguez.

As Alex Antonetz‘s Lantern article points out, this is all legit—schools can pay outside counsel to represent their student–athletes when they get themselves into trouble. Perhaps its unfortunate that the schools can’t help them out when they can’t pay their phone bills, can’t buy groceries, or can’t afford to fly home for holidays, because if the student–athletes had some financial assistance in that regard they might not have to resort to earning money other ways (ways that get them into trouble). Having lived with two scholarship athletes (one All-American) during my freshman year of college, I have first-hand knowledge about student–athletes’ financial woes.