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