DALLAS -- The last four months have been particularly rocky for Gordon Gee, the president of Ohio State, at least in theory.
First, he makes the mistake last fall of inadvertently speaking on behalf of college football's upper crust by calling the likes of TCU and Boise State unsuitable for BCS games. Big schools from big conferences such as the Big Ten and SEC don't fill their schedules with the Little Sisters of the Poor, he said. Next thing he knows, billboards are popping up around Columbus congratulating TCU on its Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin, a team that, coincidentally, beat Ohio State. The note is signed, "Little Sisters of the Poor."
Gee no sooner shakes off that national humiliation than he pratfalls right into another.
His football coach, Jim Tressel, admits that he knew months ahead of anyone else on campus last year that some of his players might be ineligible because of NCAA violations. He simply didn't tell anybody. He offered several explanations at a news conference Tuesday, none of them good. It was either a matter of national security or the kids' best interests. Maybe both. Hard to tell. Anyway, according to terms of his $3.5 million-a-year contract, Tressel could be fired for not reporting the alleged violations.
When reporters asked Gee if he considered terminating Tressel, here's what he said:
"No, are you kidding? Let me be very clear: I'm just hoping the coach doesn't dismiss me."
Ha, ha. That Gordon. What a cut-up. He must keep Tressel in stitches.
Must have pained Gee mightily to suspend Tressel for two games this fall and fine him $250,000. Maybe Tressel can forgive his boss. If that's what you can call him.
If ever there were any question about the impact of football and basketball revenues on college campuses these days, it's been answered. No one fires a successful coach anymore. Not if he's making his school enough to pay the athletic bills and maybe a few on the academic side, too.
The NCAA just suspended UConn's men's basketball coach, Jim Calhoun, for three games. The SEC got Bruce Pearl, Tennessee's basketball coach, for eight games.
Gee told Tressel to take off the Akron and Toledo games this fall.
He's scheduled to be back for Little Sisters of the Poor.
Ha! Just kidding. You listen to Gordon Gee, and you can't help yourself.
There was a time when he was not considered a laughingstock. In fact, some once considered him a visionary.
Back when he was president at Vanderbilt a decade ago and not a little concerned about the direction of college athletics, he took the unprecedented step of abolishing the athletics department and folding it into the administration.
On his reasons for taking such a remarkable leap, Gee wrote in 2003 that student-athletes are harmed when isolated from the general population.
They also lose out by being stripped of their responsibilities as citizens of the university when we say that "all will be forgiven" as long as their performance on the field is up to snuff.
Since typing that noble sentiment, Gee has upgraded to Ohio State, where he apparently got his mind right.
Nobody's asking any Ohio State officials to hang Tressel in effigy.
Until this mess, he's successfully conducted his affairs without requiring NCAA surveillance. He's also still susceptible to NCAA sanctions.
But Tuesday's news conference was no occasion to make light of the situation, either. For that matter, Tressel never even so much as said he was sorry.
"Saddened," yes. But not sorry.
No doubt Tressel doesn't lump himself in with all the reprobates running amok in college athletics. It's a lengthy cast, and their antics go back a long ways. Gordon Gee even wrote about it in 2003:
We've seen coaches behaving badly, academic fraud, graft, possibly even murder. Clearly, the system is broken and fixing it will require more than sideline cheering.
Bad jokes don't help, either. Gee probably should have taken a page from a former Oklahoma president, George Cross. Once asked by members of the state legislature why he wanted so much more money, Cross joked, "I want to build a university of which the football team can be proud."
Over the years since, Cross' line has been largely misinterpreted. What he meant was, "Why can't the quality of our university be as important to this state as the football team?"
Gordon Gee seems to have misplaced those priorities lately. Here's hoping he finds his way back to 2003.