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SI.com college football writer Stewart Mandel shares his commentary, analysis and random tidbits on the latest developments around the country.
7/15/2007 03:53:00 PM

Gee Returns to OSU with Eyes on Reform

Dr. Gordon Gee, Jim Tressel
Jim Tressel meets his new boss, Dr. Gordon Gee.
An interesting development for college football took place last week, but you wouldn't have heard about it from reading the sports page: The Ohio State University named its new president. Why this is noteworthy: Because the president in question is none other than the well-traveled Dr. Gordon Gee, formerly Ohio State's president from 1990-97 and, most recently, the chancellor of Vanderbilt.

Gee, a jovial, unabashed sports fan (in a bow tie, no less) who used to visit tailgates and exchange cheers with the "Block O" student section during his first tenure in Columbus, has since become one of the nation's most outspoken critics on college athletics reform. He's gone on record with his staunch opposition to a Division I-A playoff, going so far as to suggest football should return to its pre-BCS days of bowls with no title game. He's said teams with less than a 50 percent graduation rate should be ineligible for postseason competition. And he raised eyebrows across the country four years ago with his decision to formally eliminate Vanderbilt's athletic department (the school's sports teams were folded into the Division of Student Life).

That's right, folks: The same man who once eliminated an entire athletic department is now overseeing the school with the most bulbous athletic operation in the country (the Buckeyes field a staggering 36 varsity teams with a reported $101.8 million budget).

At his introductory press conference last week, Gee, 63, assured Buckeye faithful he would attempt no such a makeover at Ohio State and praised the school for the way it reorganized its athletic department in the wake of the Maurice Clarett and Jim O'Brien scandals a few years back. But he also promised a "zero tolerance" policy for player misbehavior, reemphasized his stance on graduation rates (the football Buckeyes came in just above Gee's threshold at 55 percent in the most recent NCAA report) and made it clear he'll be taking an active role in athletics. "Winning starts with me," said Gee. "Winning doesn't start with the coaches or the players. It starts with the president of the university."

Most of all, Gee said he plans to use his pulpit as the president of the nation's largest university to espouse his agenda for academic reform nationally. It's one thing to scream about playoffs and graduation rates when you're that kooky chancellor down at harmless little Vanderbilt; it's quite another for the president of Ohio State to go on the offensive. Which is why Gee's hiring has piqued the curiosity -– positively and negatively -– of observers around the country.

Dave Ridpath, executive director of the Drake Group (dedicated to "defending academic integrity in the face of commercialized college sports"), told the Cleveland Plain Dealer, "I think Gordon Gee can be positive. He's in a position to affect college sports as a whole." Mike Cleary, executive director of the National Association of Collegiate Athletic Directors, has a slightly different view. "When it comes to intercollegiate athletics," Cleary told the paper, "Dr. Gee's just a loose cannon."

So what do you think? Will Gee have a tangible effect on either Ohio State's program or the national collegiate landscape? Or are both enterprises already too far off the tracks for one person -- even in such a position of power -- to rein in?
posted by Stewart Mandel | View comments |


Posted: 2:37 PM   by Dublin Saab
First of all I'd say the changes OSU made after the scandals of the past few years have begun to show a positive effect. After all, how many OSU student athletes have been making news for misbehavior this summer? None. As long as the students stay out of trouble and the department keeps achieving his standards he won't go disturbing anything.

However, if the scandals of the a few year ago return watch out.
Posted: 2:39 PM   by Heidi
Well according to the Columbus Dispatch writers, Gee is Loved by all. He is a President with some potential collegiate power and wears a bow-tie. How can you not be alittle afraid?
Posted: 3:10 PM   by EthelPP
Gee (pun intended), he also was president of another renowned program - West Virginia University. Perhaps you've heard of it?
"Which is why Gee's hiring has peeked the curiosity -– positively and negatively -– of observers around the country."

It's piqued.

And good luck to Gee.
Posted: 3:36 PM   by Kevin
It looks like a positive devolopment. College football is a tangled enough mess as it is. It looks like this guy has a great platform from which to advocate some much needed reform.
Posted: 4:12 PM   by TD2Kool
I think this guy is a little full of himself.

Winning starts with him? Please, while a university president does reside over everything associated with a school, his/her main priority should be the improvement/management of academics. Leave athletics to the athletic dept.

See, this is why college football will continue in its unfair, no-playoff ways: university presidents who must run entire universities, who admittedly spend little time delving into athletics or even paying attention to them, ultimately have the final say on a college playoff. It' just stupid.
Posted: 4:16 PM   by Steve
Gee was also quoted as saying something along the lines of: how it was bothersome that Vanderbilt, with its 100% graduation rate had to play schools with single-digit graduation rates. In other words, he views athletics the way it should be - the fusion of the student and athlete dicotemy into one unit. That's remarkably refreshing for all of college sports, and the state of Ohio already loves this guy from his first term, often called Ohio State's Renaissance.

That said, graduation rate is often the most warped statistic in college sports. The NCAA counts transfer students as non-graduates even if they get degrees or already have associate degrees. It also factors in negatively if a player takes just 1 term after his 5th season is over to complete the degree. Additionally, players at big programs often leave for the NFL and complete the degree during their second year there - also counts against the graduation rate. For example, Eddie George has a degree from Ohio State, but it doesn't count towards a positive graduation rate because he completed his degree after he turned pro.

The solution? No clue. But it just goes to show that this stat, though important, is often not representative of the true picture.
Posted: 4:22 PM   by Will
OSU is going to be pretty safe. Unlike Vandy, the boosters and athletic alumni hold a considerable amount of power and I cannot see giving him unbridled reign. Sports programs are hard to build... they take decades. Academics can be remedied relatively quickly.

I'm not suggesting sports is more important than academics. Not at all. But sports programs take much more time to build, overall, than academic modifications.
Posted: 4:45 PM   by Scott
Believe me, Gee won't do any restructuring of the athletic department. He's promised the university to bring in 2.5 billion fundraising dollars during his term, and that's completely unfeasible if he chose to be as radical as he was down at Vandy.
Posted: 4:48 PM   by Evan
Remember, Gee is pure sleaze. He was run out of Brown. His wife was blazing in the Vandy prez mansion. All he's in for as a president is money. That's it. You think athletics bring in money to a college? That's a drop in the buckets compared to NIH research grants and 'sexy' bio-med and engineering programs.

Athletics will be simply be another chessboard for Gee to manipulate people who actually care about OSU's athletic fate, a place for Gee to play his own trumpet, and, perhaps most dangerously, a petri dish for Gee's own hubris.
Posted: 5:25 PM   by LSUfan
Getting academics up and all that is a great idea but is he seriously isn't one of those people that think the BCS and/or a playoff format hurts their academics is he?

Mandel if you interview him make sure you find out why is against BCS let alone a playoff system
Posted: 5:36 PM   by CowboyJoe
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Posted: 5:37 PM   by CowboyJoe
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Posted: 5:55 PM   by Charles
It's odd to hear that OSU is barely above graduation standards when the SEC schools are generally higher, and according to the Big Ten commissioner, recruit lower caliber student athletes.
Posted: 6:24 PM   by Chris
You can't be serious that it's easier to build an academic program than it is to build an athletic program.

Professors, just like coaches, go where the money is. Where their research has the best shot of being funded. Schools recruit and steal faculty far more often than they do coaches.

And if building an athletic program is so difficult, how Louisville go from a school nobody cared about other than basketball, to a school with a solid athletic department? Do you think that if Louisville decided to make it into the top 30 schools academically, it could ever be done much less over the course of a decade?
Posted: 6:24 PM   by zoehommie
didn't david lighty plead guilty to shooting someone in the butt with a bb gun? so dublins statement about student athletes making the news is incorrect.
Posted: 7:24 PM   by Patrick
I think OSU is going to start losing football players, and I am going to laugh. I'm a big B10 supporter, but Ohio State has been running a bit of a loose ship ever since Tressel took over. Buckeye fans will argue that it was the players, not Tressel, but I think we'll start to see how willy-dilly the Bucks truly are now.
Posted: 7:59 PM   by mitch
cut out the crap.

OSU personifies American athletics. Nobody cares about player GPA. Loose the Buckeyes to academic folly and you severely hurt the landscape of American sports. The word Amateur does not factor in here folks.
The Buckeyes are America and you better understand the financial and social ramifications to pretending they are Harvard. Aint going to work folks
Posted: 8:06 PM   by Matthew
A bit of a loose cannon since Tressel took over? OSU was a loose cannon when John Cooper was there, and it was Tressel's class that restored the program to its former glory. Maurice Clarrett could and would have happened at any university he attended. And Troy Smith's rise from taking $500 in booster money to winning the Heisman shows just how positive an affect Tressel can have on his players. Big 10 supporters shouldn't be so jealous of Ohio State's recent success. The conference as a whole would be much more strong if other Big Ten programs could rise to the level of Ohio State and Michigan.
Posted: 8:48 PM   by Charles
Rising to the level of Michigan & Ohio State should hardly be the goal of other Big Ten schools. The only way for the Big Ten to return to an elite status is for its teams to realize that playing and beating Notre Dame is hardly a measure of anything.
Posted: 8:51 PM   by Charles
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Posted: 9:23 PM   by CowboyJoe
He was at Vandy, an SEC school with no tradition and success, now he's at OSU, the exact opposite of Vandy. In Nashville he was regarded as a bowtie wearing turd and was not loved by all.
Posted: 9:34 PM   by Spam
You all forget that Gee was *already* at OSU. For him to return sounds like OSU really, really wanted him back. That gives him a bully pulpit. He also presided over successful athletic programs at WV and at Colorado.

People love him. Cleary should be afraid.
Posted: 10:01 PM   by nox
Gee is perfect for Ohio State and the Big Ten. They can't, and don't want to play a good team so going to a bowl game to play an average team these teams will be able to continue to scream they are the best without playing any decent teams. Great move Ohio State, you don't need to be a great team to convince morons you are good.
Posted: 11:01 PM   by Scott
you have to look at this from every side. gee's involvement in the athletic department is a great thing for any university, not Ohio State alone. it's just a matter of the level of involvement. there must remain some form of democracy that includes the athletic director, coaches, player counsels, etc -- no dictatorships (not that i'm too worried about it in Columbus). but by having the administration involved in athletics does provide avenues for a furthering of collaboration and other potentially even larger payoffs (i.e. more $$$, new facilities, marketing to future students). think about the potential effect it could have on other programs across the States. if it were to influence other "powers that be" to pave a way for the game to take tradition and infuse it with the progressiveness of the times, that could mean so much for our near future as fans of the game. now i'm not saying devalue the coaches' positions altogether, but rather allow for collaboration. gee makes me feel like tressel's going to need it.

however, here's an opportunity for Gee to set a bar. he's done it at Vanderbilt -- in both positive and negative ways. let him learn from his past lessons, and expand on them. now i'm a football fan first and foremost, but let's be totally honest; what will happen to the system of college football if the problems are left to evolve? academics must be addressed. and if it takes placing programs on probation until their in a good academic standing, then that's what it takes. otherwise we will see the game take a hard spiral for the worst.

but in the game's current defense, gee seems to be a stickler for the ways things have been. anti-playoff. strict academic requirements. i think the academic requirements of athletes must be the same of that of regular 'ol Joe Student. if the standards are met, it should act as a testament of the hard work and management of life as a student-athlete. gee can't come in the Ohio State University and expect that he'll wield his magic wand and things will change with no backlash. if he were to take any kind of drastic action, you think the people of Columbus wouldn't revolt with the force of 1,000 armies? i'm from Austin. i know better.

Heck, i'm such an idealist. this is America. no way $$$ ain't driving this rig. Gee or not.

Best of luck Gordon. i hope you leave a positive mark when it's all said and done.
Posted: 11:04 PM   by Jeffrey
Good God - how many times does it have to be said? Someone's curiosity cannot be "peeked." The proper word is "piqued."
Posted: 1:24 AM   by Matthew
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Posted: 1:28 AM   by Matthew
Ohio State is only one of few schools that are actually going out and getting bigger programs to play them in preseason games. Anyways, I met Gee when I was 14 when he awarded my mother with a distinguished teaching award. The man was amazing and a wonderful personality, he is back where he wants to be. Everyone loved him when he was there. Gee was able to dismantle the Athletic Dept. at Vandy because it was smaller, Ohio State has the largest student-athlete population of any school. I would very, very surprised to see Gee get rid of it. Ohio State is not Vandy.
Posted: 2:07 AM   by Annemarie
democracy...when did any corporate structure become a democracy. Look Gee is a CEO of a major corporation (which is a university). He has two major products that make money Academic Research and Athletics. Any smart minded leader would keep a close eye on both. I think Dr. Gee's expectations are right on. We have turned collegiate football into a minor league for the NFL, and have loss sight of the fact that these kids playing football should be about winning on and off the field. Having 50% or more not graduating is not a winning tradition and only creates more hostility between the have's and have nots.

All of the faithful boosters or others complaining, just don't want to see what collegiate athletics should be about. If you want to root for pro athletes then turn your stations into the NFL and pick a team. Hey there you can rob,rape and even be involved in murder and you still can play. I am sure that makes some boosters hearts just go pitter patter. BTW I love college football, but how this sport continues to degenerate into something that is unrecognizable from its beginnings is sad.
Posted: 10:32 AM   by Waggs
OSU personifies American athletics? That might be the funniest thing I have read. OSU might exemplify one characteristic of american athletics. You know, the part where high profile athletes don't go to class and think that Portland, Oregon is really close to the beaches of Los Angeles. OSU is to universities what Wal Mart is to retail...but then again, some people prefer cheap quantity over quality
Posted: 10:43 AM   by VolFan622
Anybody who wears a bowtie is a self-important blowhard who's more interest in promoting his own agenda than in advancing the cause of the Buckeyes.
Posted: 11:26 AM   by PM
This hopefully will be a case of "if it's not broken, don't fix it" tOSU's AD is one of only a handful of schools with Big Time athletics to %100 self supporting, not tuiton money or federal dollars support it. I would think that would be any university presidents dream come true, to be able to run a huge university without the constant struggle of balancing the acadademic side with the athletic side of things. While Gee might be the "boss"of Jim Tressel and Thad Mattaa, he will go before they will. Alumni and trustee's are the real decision maker's when it comes to a university president getting and keepting thier jobs.
Posted: 1:11 PM   by evanhood
Waggs...and the like, didn't take long for the haters to come out of the woodwork eh? Don't suppose you've ever attended a class at Ohio State eh? Harvard or bust for you? Look, get off your high horse and realize that Ohio State is a great University with an amazing tradition in both sports and academics. I know people love to hate those who are successful but good grief. Go hate on Florida already.
Posted: 1:21 PM   by Andrew
I was in school during Gee's first term, and Gee was very much loved. Gee tried to mix with the students and reach out to them. His time in the president's office was a time of huge expansion of tOSU's Athletic department, most notably marked by the renovation of Ohio stadium and the the building of the Schott Center (Arena). He has great respect for the athletic traditon (and all traditions) at Ohio State.

As an Alumn, I am thrilled Gee is coming back. I consider him a Buckeye.
Posted: 1:40 PM   by Randy
he's a fucking nerd! keep his ass away from the field
Posted: 1:43 PM   by pmason
Having been at tOSU before, Gee knows how important the athletic traditions are to the school and to the city of Cols. Unlike the state university here in NJ, the big time sports ant tOSU support all the others (36 total, the most in D-1) Rutgers cut 6 Olympic sports, laid off employees, cut courses, but turned around and gave Greg Schiano and his assts. huge raises. Since the AD is running in the red, this money has to come from tuition and tax dollars. As an alum of tOSU, I am very pleased that the AD is self supporting.
Posted: 2:32 PM   by MikeGoBlue
If "winning" starts with the President of the University, then how are we defining winning, exactly? Likely not BCS championships, I would guess.

Nice to see that a representative of the NCAA (an organization intensifying the definition of hypocrisy everyday) calls Gee a "loose cannon." I'm sure his insistence on avoiding a MUCH NEEDED playoff system in college football will really help the graduation rates of student-athletes nationwide.

At least his bow-tie will complement Tressel's ubiquitous sweater-vest.
Posted: 2:36 PM   by Knox
"Cheese whiz" entered the vernacular with less than savory meanings. An over-hyped author with a bad temper gave us the slight, "Whizzer White." get ready for it. "Gee whiz" is about to lose its innocence...
Posted: 5:39 PM   by Shape
The chief job of any university president is fundraising. I don't see any big changed at Ohio State any time soon.
Posted: 11:16 PM   by rthrthrth
OSU pwns your custie faces
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