December 22, 2001 at 12:41 AM EST - Updated July 1 at 8:40 AM
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Thanks to Ohio State coach Jim Tressel's postseason travel plans, the Buckeyes won't get a holiday bonus when they fly to the Outback Bowl this year.
The Buckeyes left together Friday on a chartered flight to Tampa, Fla., where they play South Carolina on Jan. 1. The 18 players who live further than a four-hour drive from Columbus will meet the team in Tampa.
That's much different than bowl travel under former coach John Cooper, who gave players an air ticket allowance, set a date and time to check in with coaches at the team's hotel, then let the players make their own travel plans.
Under that plan, Buckeye players pocketed as much as $300 for their own use, because many didn't use the full amount Ohio State gave them to get to the game. Some players booked super-saver fares, others drove or carpooled to the bowl game and pocketed the cash.
Schools are permitted by the NCAA to give players enough money to cover a full-coach airfare from the campus to the bowl site.
"I pretty much knew that wasn't going to happen this year," said defensive tackle Mike Collins. "That's not the way coach Tressel does things. Someone asked me right after we got the Outback bid if I was going to be driving down again this year. I said, 'Yeah, I'll be driving all right. I'll be driving with coach Tressel.'"
The Buckeyes also left for their Jan. 1 game much earlier than usual. The last time Ohio State left for a bowl game before Christmas was in 1996, when they lost the Citrus Bowl.
Tressel said his travel plans are an attempt to avoid the disaster that happened last year, when the Buckeyes lost to South Carolina 27-7.
"As we've researched it, and as many of our coaches have experienced, the teams traveling to a different climate benefit by having a few good days of work before all of the hoopla begins, when you're torn back and forth, and your focus is a little bit splintered," Tressel said.
He said he talked to Penn State coach Joe Paterno, whose team has gone 20-9-1 in bowls, before making the decision to travel early.
Linebacker Joe Cooper said he'd rather be home with his 2-year-old son Joe Jr. on Christmas Day. Neither his wife nor his son are able to travel to Florida for the game, so his family celebrated Christmas over the five days off Tressel gave the team before they left.
But Cooper said he trusts Tressel to do the right thing for the team.
"I understand what the coaches are doing," he said. "They want us to get down there and be prepared so what happened last year doesn't happen again this year."
The Buckeyes will have three days of practice at the University of South Florida starting Saturday. The team will have Christmas Day off.
(Copyright 2001 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)