Published January 13, 2015
In all likelihood, E. Gordon Gee was simply trying to crack some jokes and lighten up the mood when he made several disparaging remarks about fellow BCS schools during the Ohio State Athletics Council in December.
However, the president of a highly-regarded academic institution is not the person you want attempting comedy, especially with comments as off-putting, ill-conceived and unfunny as Gee's.
The most infamous of those remarks was directed at Notre Dame, regarding its possible inclusion during the Big Ten Conference's recent talk of expansion.
"The fathers are holy on Sunday and they're holy hell the rest of the week," Gee said, as revealed by audio recordings provided by Ohio State. "You just can't trust those damn Catholics on a Thursday or Friday so literally, I can say that very truthfully."
What Gee meant to be a good-natured, parlour-room style ribbing instead came across as juvenile and insensitive. Denigrating a group of people for their specific culture, beliefs and values is as barbaric as it is hypocritical for Gee, whose primary job as a high-operating school administrator is to best serve his eclectic and diverse student body.
That comment alone would have been more than enough grounds for punishment, but Gee's criminally unfunny material didn't stop there. He also took a jab at the SEC, stating, "Well, you tell the SEC when they can learn to read and write, then they can figure out what we're doing [with expansion]." Again, this was a peculiar remark considering his former post as the president at Vanderbilt, one of the most highly-regarded academic institutions in the country, and also of course, a member of the SEC.
Gee managed to single out a couple of schools specifically, saying the Big Ten's top priority for recruiting new members was to "make certain that we have institutions of like-minded academic integrity -- so you won't see us adding Louisville." He also went on to mention Kentucky in the same breath among those lacking "academic integrity".
Gee made sure he didn't leave the meeting without attacking Arkansas head coach Brett Bielema's personal character, referring to him as "a thug".
Perhaps Gee just had a bad day. At 69 years old and a university president for more than 20 years, he's entitled to one of those, right? Maybe, but this wasn't the first time that his mouth had gotten him in trouble.
In March of 2011, amidst the improper benefits scandal that caused the Buckeyes to lose several scholarships and bowl-eligibility, Gee made light of the situation when asked if he considered firing coach Jim Tressel, saying "No. Are you kidding? Let me just be very clear. I'm just hopeful the coach doesn't dismiss me." Of course, Tressel resigned two months later.
He also dismissed the schedules of 2010 mid-major BCS contenders Boise State and TCU, comparing their opponents to "the Little Sisters of the Poor."
With his lengthy rap sheet of head-scratching lapses in judgement filling up rather quickly over the past few years, Gee, likely under heavy influence from the university, announced he will officially step down as president effective July 1. He apologized for what he termed a "poor attempt at humor" in a statement released by the school.
"I recently returned from vacation with my family, during which time I had a chance to consider the university's phenomenal achievements and the road that lies ahead," Gee said. "During my days away, I also spent some time in self- reflection, and after much deliberation, I have decided it is now time for me to turn over the reins of leadership to allow the seeds that we have planted to grow. It is also time for me to reenergize and refocus myself."
So is Gee genuinely apologetic for his remarks? Or is he simply sorry for having gotten caught? Like we've seen so many times before in sports scandals, the obvious answer appears to be the latter.
Which is a shame, because despite his numerous gaffes and missteps, Gee had proven to be an effective president at Ohio State. His role as a university ambassador, both academically and athletically, earned him the title of best college president in the U.S. by Time Magazine in 2010.
But at a certain point, enough is enough. Public figures are rightly put under a microscope, especially in the digital age. Gee may not have taken to Twitter with his remarks, like Mike Wallace did last month in regards to Jason Collins coming out, or lashed out in a press conference, like Roy Hibbert did last week following a loss to the Miami Heat. But given his standing as a respected academic in a high-profile leadership position, Gee's offenses were arguably worse.
The best university presidents, like the best MLB umpires, largely go unnoticed -- quietly and effectively doing their job while allowing the bigger and bolder personalities, like players and coaches, to take center stage. But Gee's flamboyant, outspoken nature has caused him to steal the spotlight for all the wrong reasons, and Ohio State will be better off with him finally out of the picture.