FORT WORTH, Texas — One of college football’s marquee matchups this weekend is for all of those “Little Sisters of the Poor” teams that Ohio State’s former president once said the Buckeyes didn’t play.
A lot has changed since Gordon Gee’s statement went viral nearly eight years ago, but there is no denying the role his comments made in ensuring Saturday night’s big game between No. 15 TCU and No. 4 Ohio State at the home stadium of the Dallas Cowboys.
TCU was deep into an undefeated 2010 season that was capped by a Rose Bowl victory and Boise State was still a few days away from its only loss when Gee, then at Ohio State, said the BCS-busting Horned Frogs and Broncos didn’t deserve to be in the Bowl Championship Series title game even if they wound up undefeated.
“I do know, having been both a Southeastern Conference president and a Big Ten president, that it’s like murderer’s row every week for these schools,” Gee declared. “We do not play the Little Sisters of the Poor. We play very fine schools on any given day. So I think until a university runs through that gantlet that there’s some reason to believe that they not be the best teams to (be) in the big ballgame.”
This was before TCU became a Power Five team in the Big 12, where Gee is now president at West Virginia and chairman of the league’s board of directors.
This was also before the BCS gave way to the four-team College Football Playoff, and before Ohio State jumped past Big 12 co-champions TCU and Baylor for the fourth and final spot in the inaugural CFP field in 2014 on the way to winning the national title.
Gone but not forgotten.
Not long after the Frogs beat Wisconsin and finished No. 2 in the final Top 25 for the 2010 season, some digital billboards in the Columbus area mysteriously displayed messages congratulating TCU for its BCS Rose Bowl victory and were signed, “Little Sisters of the Poor.”
“We’ve chuckled about it many times,” former TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte, now at Texas, said this week while also recalling Gee responded to him about those “funny, nice billboards” after the bowtie-wearing president joined WVU in March 2014.
In early 2011, Del Conte and Ohio State AD Gene Smith found themselves together at the same meeting. They got to talking and, as TCU coach Gary Patterson puts it, “all of a sudden, you had a ballgame.”
“We were talking about the (Rose Bowl) game and the president and just all of the things that happened around the billboards, and somehow ... a conversation broke out about playing a home and home,” Del Conte said. “We said, ‘Yeah, we’d love to do that.’”
The Mountain West Conference champion Frogs were preparing for a move to the Big East, a league with BCS access, when that home-and-home series was agreed on with Ohio State. Later in 2011, TCU got an invitation to join the Big 12, a Power Five league with a nine-game conference schedule.
Ohio State was scheduled to play in Fort Worth this season, and the Horned Frogs were going to travel to the Horseshoe in 2019 before the two-game series was replaced by Saturday night’s game at AT&T Stadium. That is about 20 miles from the TCU campus and where the Buckeyes won the first CFP national championship game four seasons ago.
Both schools are getting $5 million for the game that goes back to what Gee said in November 2010.
“That was then, this is now. I think it says a lot about our program that you get a chance to play, that somebody wants to move a home and home to one ballgame,” Patterson said. “If you’re not a program that’s recognized, then they don’t want to move a program and pay X-amount dollars to each school.”
Current Ohio State players, many of them who were around 12 years old when Gee made his comment, said they are instead focused on one of their toughest opponents this season.
“The statement, I don’t think I remember hearing it at the time, but I do remember the controversy around it,” TCU senior safety Niko Small said.
More vivid to Small was what happened in 2014, when he was a high school senior and one-loss TCU dropped from third to sixth in the final CFP rankings a day after a 55-3 victory over Iowa State to secure a share of the Big 12 title.
“It broke my heart. I was a commit here at the time,” Small said. “I remember where I was and everything. ... I couldn’t believe it.”
AP sportswriter Mitch Stacy contributed to this report from Columbus.
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