The joke's finally on Ohio State as university president Gordon Gee retires

They're laughing at Notre Dame today. And at your neighborhood parish. And perhaps even at the Vatican.

The Southeastern Conference is chuckling.

So are the universities of Louisville and Cincinnati.

Bret Bielema, too.

And if you go back a bit, Boise State and the Little Sisters of the Poor are probably smiling as well.

Gordon Gee has announced his retirement as president at Ohio State, effective July 1. It's abrupt enough to make clear that this was a forced exit plan, not a desired one.

Maybe he finally ran out of bad-joke material. Or maybe the school's trustees finally ran out of patience with Bow Tie's ability to insult and offend.

The old backtrack apology routine was wearing a little thin, wasn't it?

Gee has spent several days saying he was sorry for December 2012 comments to the Ohio State Athletics Council – comments that became public last week. According to the Columbus Dispatch, trustees were so concerned by Gee's indiscriminate insults that day, they met Jan. 31 and March 8 in private to figure out how to contain their walking time bomb of a president.

The Dispatch said the board directed Gee to "scale back on his public speeches," and also suggested a "coach" be hired to help Gee do his job. The very premise of coaching being needed for a 69-year-old man making nearly $2 million – the highest income of any university president, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education – underscores some of what ails American higher education.

Whatever it takes to prop up a bumbling, offensive, revenue magnet.

But someone clearly tipped off the Associated Press to those December comments, which were acquired through a public-records request. Someone at Ohio State must have wanted to see those comments made public, and to see Gee further unmasked as the laughingstock leader he was becoming.

And now here is the endgame. Gee's reign of error is over.

In many ways, Gee clearly was a successful university leader. The most obvious was his ability to fundraise, helping transform the Ohio State campus and several others he led. (Gee was top dog previously at West Virginia, Brown, Colorado and Vanderbilt.)

Time Magazine named him the nation's best college president in 2010. He certainly is among the nation's most visible.

A large part of that visibility has been Gee's involvement in college sports. And that's where many of the problems have occurred.

Remember when Gee chose the depths of an NCAA investigation to voice support for Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel, uttering the immortal phrase, "I'm just hopeful the coach doesn't dismiss me." Tressel was forced out a couple of months later, which was probably a good indication that Gee was no longer having everything his own way.

But in a larger sense, Gee symbolizes how and why presidential oversight of the NCAA has become a failed mission.

Gee served on the NCAA Presidential Taskforce on the Future of Intercollegiate Athletics. He attended NCAA president Mark Emmert's retreat in 2011 to discuss issues related to college athletics. He's been a strong voice in Big Ten decision making as well. He's been a prominent part of the modern reform movement that gave control of college sports to the chancellors and presidents, wresting it away from athletic directors.

The premise was solid: University leaders needed to take charge of sports to keep them in perspective, and to keep them subordinate to the academic imperative upon which American higher education is founded. The athletic tail would no longer wag the academic dog. The buck would stop in the administration building, not the athletic complex.

But the follow-through has not worked. Not as well as it could have and should have.

Presidents have been too removed from the realities of athletics to lead coherent reform. They have vacillated on rules and policies. They have been impatient with changes and pulled the plug. They have passed short-sighted legislation. They have been accused of failing to listen to and involve athletic leaders. They have talked a big game about a commitment to enforcement but not always played it. They have been as easily seduced by the revenue-producing arms race as those on the jock side of campus.

And when it came to greedily chasing athletic revenue via corporate raiding of other conferences – to the detriment of the overall stability and health of college sports – many were willing partners with their ego-driven commissioners. Gee's comments to the Athletics Council championing a "predatory" approach to Big Ten expansion illustrate fully where he stood on that issue.

In many of those ways, Gordon Gee stands symbolic of so many presidents and chancellors caught in the quagmire of college athletics. A smart, charismatic, energetic man has gotten just enough involved in the side business of sports that it led to his downfall.

Today, Gordon Gee is the butt of his own jokes. And a lot of the people he offended are probably laughing at his expense.

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