Ohio State president E. Gordon Gee's entire existence is centered on money (raising and spending) and attention (drawing it in from adoring crowds and dishing it out on wealthy alums). There is little else.
There's no denying he's brilliant at it. The guy is a walkin', talkin', back-slappin', joke-tellin', bow-tie-wearin', Orville Redenbacher-lookin' (his description), down-to-earth academic who can and will charm you, Mr. and Mrs. Potential Donor, right out of your checkbook. Seriously, he's easy to like.
It's why seemingly half the schools in America have hired him, including Ohio State, twice. And it's why he'll almost assuredly keep his job despite his latest wild comments – that ranged from "joking" about "damn Catholics", illiterate Southerners, the sub-standard "integrity" of universities in Kentucky and even the hard-wired greed of Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany.
The comments weren't what you'd normally consider the material of a university president, but when did that ever matter with Gee?
The man craves attention and through the years has proven he'll pretty much say or insult anything and anyone (including himself) if he thinks it might get an extra chuckle, especially if that might one day lead to an extra donation or positive word in the media.
"The comments I made were just plain wrong," Gee told the Associated Press after a tape of him speaking to the OSU athletic counsel in December materialized. He'd already been called in front of the school's trustees in January and given a "remediation plan" as penance.
"In no way do they reflect what the university stands for," Gee said. "They were a poor attempt at humor and entirely inappropriate."
When it came to discussing the Big Ten's long flirtation with adding Notre Dame, Gee said you couldn't trust Catholic priests – notably the late Rev. Ned Joyce, who helped run the school.
"The fathers are holy on Sunday, and they're holy hell on the rest of the week," Gee said. "You just can't trust those damn Catholics on a Thursday or a Friday."
When someone asked about fans of the SEC mocking the Big Ten for having 14 schools and not, you know, 10, Gee, the former president of Vanderbilt, went old-school stereotypes and cracked the South for being uneducated.
"You tell the SEC when they can learn to read and write, then they can figure out what we're doing," Gee said.
He later slammed the "academic integrity" (whatever that means) of the Universities of Kentucky and Louisville. He later noted that while he was a fan of Delany, he described the Big Ten commish as "very aggressive."
"We need to make certain he keeps his hands out of our pockets while we support him," Gee said.
No doubt some will be offended. Some won't. Feel as you wish. Unless there is a groundswell of anger that threatens E. Gordon Gee's ability to raise money for Ohio State, he won't be replaced. That's the way the world works.
Gee isn't likely a bigot. He's just a self-centered opportunist desperate for glowing smiles and open wallets. In other words, the modern American university president. He's 69 years old. Why change? He's turned himself into a very wealthy man (compensation about $1.6 million per year) acting in a way that gets billions raised for his schools. It's not like someone died here.
In the past he has used jokes involving Polish stereotypes, made dumb analogies concerning football, insulted the ability of student-athletes at other schools and generally made a mockery of himself.
He infamously joked in the middle of an otherwise sober news conference concerning an NCAA investigation that he hoped then-Buckeyes football coach Jim Tressel "doesn't dismiss me." (That, it's worth noting, may have been the most honest thing ever said in college athletics.)
It would be easy for the rest of the country to brush of old E. Gordon as just a guy in Ohio with a lack of self-awareness who either entertains them or infuriates them or is just worth ignoring. How much is your life influenced by some far-off school president?
The problem is he's spent his career moonlighting as one of the chief busybodies and reformers of the NCAA.
Over the decades Gee has sat in on nearly all of the most powerful boards and executive committees, both in the national office in Indianapolis and through the Big Ten and SEC. He's shaped college sports, pushed its direction, been a part of creating, or not changing, its rules, culture and purpose. This is a guy who went seeking power and influence and then wielded it broadly.
About the only one of his peers more active than Gee was former Penn State president Graham Spanier. Those two were always locked at the philosophical hips, quick to scold everyone else – particularly young athletes – about how to conduct their affairs. (Spanier is currently awaiting trial on charges of perjury, obstruction, endangering the welfare of children, failure to properly report suspected abuse and conspiracy that stem from the Jerry Sandusky sexual molestation scandal.)
These are the people who run the NCAA, not the office workers in Indy or even president Mark Emmert, a former campus leader himself. These are the men and women that are in charge and have been forever. These are the rulers and defenders of the status quo.
These are the people who gave you an organization that thinks amateurism is somehow a fair concept, that demands that it and it alone gets all the money, that believes it has the inalienable right to sell a player's likeness for ever and ever, that seemingly reworks its policies on the fly, that writes a rule book that obsesses over things such as cream cheese on bagels, that creates an enforcement system that no one believes is fair, that uses an illusion of a level playing field to dodge taxes and that, in the end, has a weak record of actually educating many of its most high-profile "student-athletes."
E. Gordon Gee is the NCAA: tone deaf, clumsy, situationally arrogant and obsessed with bringing in more and more money (and making sure Delany, or anyone else, doesn't then get their paws on it).
There is nothing noble or enlightened or moral or dignified about these people. They're just desperate, look-at-me fundraisers who, when not saying or doing ridiculous things, claim they and they alone know what's best for all.
That's always the most offensive part here.
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