Ohio State president Gordon Gee poses with his bow tie collection.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- My heart really isn't into the task of firing back at Ohio State University president Gordon Gee.
Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports said Gee's jabs at Catholics, the University of Louisville, the University of Kentucky and the Southeastern Conference in general, "aren't just low-hanging fruit; they're peeled grapes hand-fed to the reclining media."
I guess I'm not in the mood for grapes, sour or otherwise.
The playbook for a columnist in Louisville, Ky., (I'm looking at it right now) is to tear into Ohio State. It calls for me to chuckle at his December comment about the Big Ten only taking institutions of like-minded "academic integrity," so they would not be taking Louisville. Or Kentucky.
It says here that I should now proceed to an anonymous 1999 letter from The Ohio State faculty members regarding shenanigans to keep All-American linebacker Andy Katzenmoyer eligible, which said, and I quote, "the academic integrity of this University has become a joke."
Every good play has multiple options, and this one calls for references to Jim O'Brien paying a potential basketball player, along with quick mentions of Maurice Clarett and tattoo-for-memorabilia schemes.
As the play clock winds down, I'm to suggest that not being a "like-minded" institution with Ohio State might not be the worst thing in the world, in some ways.
Another option would be to talk about how The Ohio State University has had every legislative advantage that a public flagship state university could have since its founding in 1870 with its primary standing in Ohio even written into state law in 1906. Or, failing that, to note that the choice Gee and others in the Big Ten made instead of Louisville was Rutgers.
Pausing while board members laugh.
As for Kentucky -- the Big Ten should've been camped out on its doorstep for expansion. It probably wouldn't have done any good, but UK was a far better match than Rutgers.
My problem is that I can't muster the proper indignation. No matter how stupid its president acts, nor how offensive his comments about an entire religion. "You can't trust the damn Catholics," he said. I know he was joking. Heck, he should be allowed to joke. But it has to be fair. Fill in almost any other religious/ethnic/sexually oriented group in the place of "Catholics" and Gordon Gee would be Gordon Gone.
U of L president James Ramsey fired back, noting that he's glad he's not prez at OSU, what with all the NCAA issues to deal with. Rick Pitino called into Terry Meiners' WHAS radio program and blasted Gee for both his anti-Catholic and anti-Cardinal remarks, and even defended UK's academic reputation, calling Gee a "pompous ass" in the process.
There are a couple of problems with all this. First, Ohio State is, no matter what anybody thinks of its athletic teams and sweater vests and all that other stuff, a really good school. If you believe in public higher education, then, you know, Ohio State's a pretty good place. You want it to remain a pretty good place. You want public universities elsewhere to earn similar respect in academic circles.
What Gee's behavior does is cheapen the whole enterprise. And it certainly attempts to cheapen Louisville, which was the initial recipient of the academic barbs.
U of L was the nation's first city-owned public university. Ohio State got 1,700 prime acres right in Columbus. U of L crammed itself into 345 urban acres in Louisville, at a location that wasn't even its first choice. U of L wanted some choice real estate in what is now Louisville's Highlands district, and in fact on what is now the Bellarmine campus. Voters in the city voted down a tax that would've allowed that purchase.
U of L has made its contributions. The nation's first emergency room. The first self-contained artificial heart transplant. The first hand transplant. There are others. Every school has them. While Ohio State was being established as The University in Ohio, and the only public university in the state granting doctoral degrees early in the last century, U of L didn't become a state university until 1970. It is making up for lost decades in some areas, with shifting missions, etc.
It is where it is, wherever that may be, despite being at great institutional disadvantage for much of its history. And in athletics, it's where it is despite never having been in the "club" of elite conference branding, all the while taking the barbs of the state land-grant entitlement class types who have enjoyed the benefit of better public funding and begun to believe, for some reason, that they're better and smarter because of it.
Beyond his disrespect for a large religious community, Gee ought to at least respect fellow public universities. It's not that his attitude is insulting, it's that it is counterproductive. For a public university president, even if it is billed as a "public Ivy," to knock other public state schools is to heap disrespect on his own undertaking.
I don't think it helps to jab any of them, frankly. They're all filled with people trying to learn, study, research, make their lives better -- and many of them filled with faculty who are trying to make Life (with a capital L) better through teaching or research.
It's not that I'm humorless. Gee shoots from the lip all the time, and I'm in favor of a society that errs on the side of attempted humor.
I'd just like to see the highest-paid public university president in the nation show an appreciation for what public higher education is about, using his power to lift all boats rather than torpedo them.
It's not the subjects of Gee's jabs that come off looking bad. It's the university that employs the guy making them that gets the black eye. That's why Ohio State has moved to put him through a "remediation program."
If I'm U of L, I wouldn't even ask for an apology. I'd just ask for one football game in Cincinnati's Paul Brown Stadium and call it even.