How to Run College Sports

By Nocera, Joe | International Herald Tribune, June 7, 2013 | Go to article overview

How to Run College Sports


Nocera, Joe, International Herald Tribune


The business of big-time athletic programs should be handled by business executives.

So, are you convinced yet? Do you need any more proof that U.S. college presidents are not qualified to run a major entertainment industry like college football and men's basketball? That whatever their academic and fund-raising skills, they are in over their heads whenever they involve themselves in the $6 billion-and-counting business that big-time college sports has become? Besides, don't they have other things to do?

A few weeks ago, I broached this idea in a column about Holden Thorp, who is leaving the sports-obsessed University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for Washington University in St. Louis, where athletics don't matter much at all. He was visibly relieved. His tenure as North Carolina's chancellor had been marked by a long- running football scandal that, as he himself acknowledged, his academic background left him ill-equipped to deal with.

Thorp drew criticism for saying that higher education would be better served if college presidents weren't expected to drop everything and micromanage the athletic department every time there was a problem. But look at what's happened since. First came the public clamor over the way the president of Rutgers University, Robert Barchi, has managed -- or, rather, mismanaged -- a scandal that began when Mike Rice, the former basketball coach, was caught on video physically and verbally abusing his players. Barchi's job may be in jeopardy, even though he has held it for less than a year. And, on Tuesday, E. Gordon Gee, the president of Ohio State, said he would be retiring on July 1 after some crass private remarks he made in December about other college teams were reported last week by The Associated Press.

Let's take Gee first. A prodigious fund-raiser, he makes nearly $2 million a year and was named the country's best college president by Time magazine in 2010.

But whenever the subject is sports, Gee turns into a blithering idiot. A few years ago, in the midst of an N.C.A.A. investigation, Gee was asked whether he was going to fire the football coach, Jim Tressel. "I just hope the coach doesn't dismiss me," he said. (He eventually had to ask Tressel to retire.) In the most incendiary of his most recent remarks, he said that Notre Dame had never been invited to join Ohio State's conference, the Big Ten, because "you just can't trust those damned Catholics." Gee has said plenty of, er, quirky things over the years, but it was his foolish comments about sports that finally got him. …

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