INDIANAPOLIS — Bradley Roby is likely about to sign a seven-figure NFL rookie contract.
If you ask the former Ohio State cornerback, the payday for his services will come a few years too late.
Displaying his usual candor, Roby made the case on Sunday at the league’s scouting combine for why he should be a first-round draft pick, why many fans are misguided about his performance against Wisconsin — and his absence in the Orange Bowl — and why college football players should be paid.
Roby said he supported the group of Northwestern football players’ well-publicized petition to form a labor union that could bargain for benefits, going as far to say athletes at schools raking in tens of millions of dollars in football revenue should collect a salary beyond their full academic scholarships and monthly stipend.
Asked if felt like an employee in college, Roby replied, "Definitely."
"How these colleges are running football programs now, it's just like the NFL," he said. "It's about results, it's about winning. That's what the game is about. ... Classes, working out, performing week in and week out. You’re doing all that and then you're coming home and don't have much to eat.
"You can't take anybody out to go get food or go to the mall and get some new shoes. It's like, ‘Wow, where's all this money going?’ Not in my pockets. I sympathize with the [Northwestern players]."
University administrators are almost universally against a landmark move to pay college athletes, which would remove the facade of amateurism altogether and leave many schools deep in the red. Even at Ohio State, the economics of putting athletes on its payroll do not add up on the surface. For all of the revenue the athletics department generates — $123 million last year, according to federal records — it spent $122 million. OSU uses its return from football to keep up in the arms race but also to help fund 34 nonrevenue sports.
Still, Roby can’t help but see the billion-dollar television contracts, the palatial facilities — replete at OSU with "big flat screens being put everywhere," he said. While the Northwestern players are not asking to be paid — their scholarships are worth about $76,000 per year — Roby, a Suwanee, Ga., native, argued that is the next logical step.
"I don't think [a scholarship] is enough," he said. "You can get a regular scholarship as a regular student through certain programs. The sheer amount of money that athletes make for universities, you’ve got to have something more than a scholarship. You can still have a scholarship and not have food. Not everybody comes from a decent background. A lot of college people who are just going to college as regular students, they have good funding from their families."
Of course, those concerns are now in the past. Roby, a blistering 5-foot-11, 194-pounder, is projected as a late first or early second-round selection in May despite a final season he conceded "was not as expected."
Roby returned for a fourth year only to be suspended for the Buckeyes’ first game after an offseason bar altercation. He said, "My mindset in camp wasn't where it should have been," and believes he paid for it early in the fall. He was memorably burned several times in single coverage by Wisconsin receiver Jared Abbrederis, who had 10 catches for a career-high 207 yards.
Roby was cryptic in his self-evaluation but said fans’ criticism was misplaced.
"I made some mistakes, but I only gave up one touchdown, had good stats, and we won the game," he said. "It was bad for my standards, but at the same time, I had a good game."
In any case, Roby said his focus returned and he lived up to that standard during much of the season’s second half. It was only in the end that his hard-luck year took a final, bitter twist, with a bone bruise to his knee suffered in the Big Ten championship game scratching him from the Orange Bowl. Roby called the speculation that he was backing down from a matchup with star Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins in order to protect his draft stock "very frustrating."
"A lot of people decided they wanted to make up things saying this or that," he said. "Everybody is entitled to their own opinion. But at the end of the day, I just couldn't get back. I look forward to opportunities like that. The fact that I couldn’t end my career in a game of that caliber hurt me."
Now, a lucrative career begins, and Roby is as confident as ever. He was asked if he can be a shutdown corner, and his answer featured no gray area.
"That's definitely what I can do," he said, "and I plan to show that to whatever team drafts me."