The Associated Press
COLUMBUS — The new president at Ohio State University, the nation’s largest, says college athletics must be fixed at the national level and he will have “zero tolerance” for player misbehavior at Ohio State.
Gordon Gee disbanded the athletics department at Vanderbilt University because he felt sports had become too separate from the rest of the university. He doesn’t believe the same approach would work or is needed at Ohio State, but his philosophy is the same.
Ohio State, the national runner-up in football and basketball last year, is emerging from a troubled period highlighted by the conviction of former football star Maurice Clarett last year on charges of aggravated robbery and carrying a concealed weapon.
“I have zero tolerance for those who do not live by the rules of the university or by the rules of the organizing body,” Gee said in an interview Friday. “It’s very important for us to set a very high standard for ourselves.”
He said Ohio State won’t have a bigger fan for players’ on-the-field performance. But, he added, “I’m going to be here to support you to make sure that what we do off the field is consistent with the philosophy and values of the university.”
Gee’s approach fits the way things work now at Ohio State, athletics director Gene Smith said.
He said the department is already integrated with the university in several ways, such as the provost’s control of the student-athlete counseling program.
“The focus should always be on what we’re here for and that is to educate and to help these young people get their degrees,” Smith said. “There’s no other priority higher than that.”
Gee, who was also president of Ohio State from 1990 to 1997, said athletics reform nationally must tie graduation rates with scholarships.
“If you’re graduating 8 percent of your students, you shouldn’t get as many scholarships or as much revenue as those who graduate 70 or 80 percent of your students,” Gee said. “Right now what you do is field semiprofessional teams and these kids are not graduating.”
Ohio State’s overall student-athlete graduation rate is 80 percent, well above the 63 percent for all OSU students, according to the most recent NCAA report that uses a four-year snapshot of graduating classes.
The graduation rate for men’s football is 55 percent and 38 percent for men’s basketball.
Currently, the NCAA compiles an academic progress report that measures eligibility and retention of student-athletes for every program at every Division I school.
Teams scoring less than 925 — the equivalent of a 60 percent graduation rate under the NCAA’s formula — receive warning letters and could face harsher sanctions over the next three years. A second offense during that time would result in a reduction of practice time or games played. A third offense would result in disqualification from NCAA tournaments.
Gee said Ohio State should use its reputation to press for change.
“This institution is the leading institution in the country in terms of intercollegiate athletics,” he said. “What a wonderful platform for us to win the national championship in everything and do it in a way that the president of the university can sleep at night.”
In two days of interviews following his selection, Gee also said:
—He would resume his practice of walking around tailgate parties and campus neighborhoods on game days to encourage responsible behavior.
“I don’t intend on being the Gestapo nor having this university do that. I intend on us being proactive and say, ‘Look, I want you to have a great time. I want you to enjoy yourself. And by the way, represent the university well. Have enough pride. Don’t get out of hand. But I’m not going to sit there and monitor you.’”
—He’ll set the standard for the university’s athletic approach.
“Winning starts with me. Winning doesn’t start with the coaches or the players. It starts with the president of the university.”
—Ohio State is stronger as a result of the Clarett saga.
“The university used it as an opportunity to make some changes which has been very healthy for the athletic department.”