COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State President Gordon Gee said Wednesday he expects university athletics director Gene Smith to stay on despite head football coach Jim Tressel's resignation and a growing number of alleged NCAA violations by the football program.
Gee also told Columbus-area reporters there is "a legitimate question" about how some confirmed violations happened and that Ohio State's athletic compliance system should be fixed if it's not working.
Tressel was forced to step aside Monday in the midst of an NCAA investigation involving players' sales of game memorabilia.
Both Gee and Smith heaped praise on Tressel during a March news conference called after it was revealed Tressel had known about the sales for months but never alerted university authorities. Gee said at the time that Tressel's job was safe.
On Wednesday, Gee said, "Gene Smith's job is safe."
The brief comments were Gee's first since the university announced Tressel's resignation Monday.
Gee spoke outside the university's Wexner Center for the Arts, named for Harry L. Wexner, the father of Les Wexner, the billionaire chairman of the OSU board of trustees.
Les Wexner, chairman and founder of Limited Brands and a major donor to the center and university, has so far declined to comment about the scandal. Other university trustees have referred comment to Wexner or Gee.
Gee said he couldn't say much at the moment on the advice of the university's attorneys. But he did acknowledge events in recent months drew attention to how the university monitors athletes' compliance with NCAA rules.
"It raises a legitimate question of how did some of these things happen," Gee said. "If it's not working, then we make it work."
Gee called the situation "an intense national scandal" and said it felt at times as if he were in the midst of a tsunami.
Tressel's 10-year reign as coach of the Buckeyes ended in disgrace Monday as he was forced to step down for breaking NCAA rules.
He knew players received cash and tattoos for autographs, championship rings and equipment and did not tell anyone at Ohio State or the NCAA what he knew for more than nine months. NCAA rules — and Tressel's contract — specify that he must disclose any and all information about possible violations.
Gee's handling of the crisis has been criticized by fans and alumni since the memorabilia sales were first revealed in December. Several emails to Gee's office at the time said it was hypocritical for the university to suspend five players for five games this upcoming season but allow them to play in January's Sugar Bowl.
Gee didn't help his cause with a joke he made at the March 8 news conference when asked by a reporter if he had considered firing Tressel.
"No, are you kidding?" Gee said. "Let me just be very clear: I'm just hopeful the coach doesn't dismiss me."
Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached at http://twitter.com/awhcolumbus