Regardless of how much college sports may appear to be for children and those of us who would still like to be children, it is a multi-billion-dollar industry. Anyone who thinks that they are the smartest person in a roomful of jocks on the basis of a Ph.D in English Literature or World History will often walk out of the room having made a fool of himself.
Recently, we have the examples of Gordon Gee, who talked his way out of the job as Ohio State’s president, and Robert Barchi, who somehow remains as the president of Rutgers.
Gee has been the president of five colleges — more than anyone ever, according to his biography. The assumption — and it may be a dangerous one — is that he must be pretty bright. Gee is 69 with a penchant for wearing bow ties and putting his expensive shoes into his mouth on a remarkably regular basis.
A few years back, concerned that Ohio State might somehow lose millions of dollars if it was passed over for a Bowl Championship Series bid by either unbeaten Boise State or unbeaten TCU, Gee said neither team deserved a BCS bid because a lot of the teams on their schedule couldn’t beat “The Little Sisters of the Poor.”
Gee was both un-informed (to be kind) on the subject of scheduling and rude on the subject of the Little Sisters of the Poor. He had to apologize to everyone and, for good measure, made a contribution to the Ohio branch of the Little Sisters of the Poor. Whether he offered to schedule them is another question.
Gee also made the mistake of being honest when asked if Coach Jim Tressel might be fired in the wake of the tattoo-parlor scandal that led to Ohio State being investigated and sanctioned by the NCAA. “I’m just hopeful,” he said, “that the coach doesn’t fire me.”
That line will be Gee’s epitaph at Ohio State, even though it was the remarkable string of insulting comments he made last December at an Ohio State athletic council meeting that ultimately brought him down. Gee insulted Catholics — “can’t trust those damn Catholics,” he said, in reference to the leadership at Notre Dame; everyone in the Southeastern Conference — “they should learn to read and write”; the University of Louisville — not worthy of the Big Ten academically; and Arkansas football Coach Bret Bielema — “a thug,” whom Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez was glad to be rid of when he left last winter.
Remarkably, Gee probably would have survived if the Associated Press hadn’t made a public-records request for the tape of that meeting. After Gee’s comments went public, he announced his “retirement.”