Ohio State Athletic Director Andy Geiger announced yesterday that he will retire one year ahead of schedule, citing the cumulative fatigue of running the country's largest college sports program and his dwindling enthusiasm for the job.
Geiger, 65, said he was not evading the controversy that swirls around Buckeyes athletics -- which includes improper payments to athletes, the arrest of more than a dozen football players during the last two years and allegations of academic fraud -- but rather had reached a decision that he felt was best for himself and Ohio State.
"After 33 years as an athletic director at five fine universities, I find that my work is no longer fun, and that I don't look forward with enthusiasm to each day," Geiger said during a news conference on campus. "Thus it is time for me to change directions, and time for Ohio State to seek new leadership for its department of athletics."
Ohio State President Karen A. Holbrook recounted Geiger's achievements during his 11-year tenure and insisted in a telephone interview that she had in no way lost faith in his leadership but had tried repeatedly to persuade him to stay. "It's hard not to feel some sadness today," Holbrook said. "He has been a phenomenal leader and a great partner to me and great friend."
But a faculty leader said that Geiger's departure would likely be welcomed by the academic community because of the specter of scandal that has shrouded the university since allegations of wrongdoing were first raised by football player Maurice Clarett following the Buckeyes' 2002 national championship. Ohio State's football and men's basketball programs are being investigated by the NCAA.
"I think it would be fair to say this had to be done, and it had to be done now," said Jack Rall, chair of the university's faculty council and a professor of physiology and cell biology. "Ohio State has been under duress for many months. Because of that situation and its intensity, I think if he had stayed around for another year-and-a-half, the focus would likely have stayed on OSU longer. I think he's doing what he perceived is in the best interests of the university and the faculty."
Geiger will step down at the end of June and remain as a consultant to the department through June 2006, focusing on developing a booster-education program, improving academic-support services for athletes and raising money for new facilities. His premature departure represents a bittersweet ending to a distinguished 33-year career as an athletic director at Brown (1971-75), Pennsylvania (1975-79), Stanford (1979-90) and Maryland (1990-94).
With an $85 million annual budget and nearly 1,000 students participating in 36 varsity sports, Ohio State has been regarded as a model of big-time athletics. Geiger's tenure at Ohio State has been marked by major investment in athletic facilities, including a $200 million renovation of Ohio Stadium, the 101,568-seat football venue that dwarfs any in the NFL; 15 national championships; and an expansion of women's sports. But in recent years, allegations of improprieties off the field have begun to sully its reputation.
Clarett, then a precocious freshman running back, cast the first stone on the eve of the 2003 Fiesta Bowl, lambasting Geiger for not paying for his flight back to Ohio to attend the funeral of a close friend. Within months Clarett was in the news again, accused of falsifying a police report to collect money for a theft that hadn't occurred and lying to NCAA investigators.
When his claims of academic impropriety and improper gifts surfaced in ESPN the Magazine, Ohio State officials questioned his credibility and launched an internal investigation that exonerated the school.
But further media reports found more problems. Basketball coach Jim O'Brien, whom Geiger hired, was fired last summer for giving $6,000 to a recruit five years earlier. Last week quarterback Troy Smith was suspended from the Alamo Bowl for accepting improper benefits from a booster.
In speaking to reporters yesterday, Geiger said he hoped that his tenure at Ohio State would be viewed "with a somewhat longer lens" rather than strictly in the context of the controversies of the moment. He added that he didn't feel, and fervently hoped, that none of the problems under investigation were "systemic."
Holbrook, who has begun a national search for a successor, said the university has found nothing suggesting academic fraud.
"There are things like the booster issue that are of concern," Holbrook said. "But we brought those to light. As soon as we find them, we take them public. We don't want our reputation besmirched and don't want someone to say we're shoving it under the rug. I certainly think it will do nothing to damage Andy's reputation. The things he has done in these 11 years as AD speak for themselves."