Marshall: Hypocritical Leader Heading North

Phillip Marshall writes about Southeastern Conference football in this column.

So Gordon Gee is leaving Vanderbilt and returning to Ohio State, huh? Interesting.

I know it's not popular to criticize Gee, who has become the darling of all those who are convinced that college athletics in general and football in particular are out of control. But, personally, I'll be glad to see him leave the Southeastern Conference.

Don't get me wrong. Gee seems to be a nice guy. My limited dealings with him have always been cordial. I'm sure he is a brilliant and talented man. But people like Gee and NCAA president Myles Brand, with their big offices, bigger salaries and even bigger egos, do more harm than good to intercollegiate athletics and the young people who compete. At least, that's my humble opinion.

They come up with silly formulas like the APR, which really measures nothing except which schools are best at keeping players eligible. They make rules that make it all but impossible for athletes to do what other students can do, simple things like deciding to change a major during their years in college. They seem to have little understanding of what life is like in the real world. They wring their hands when an athlete flunks out of school, blithely ignoring the fact that some 50 percent of the freshman classes at most universities won't graduate.

In their view of the world, it's a tragedy if a college athlete doesn't get a degree. If it's my son or your daughter, who cares?

Gee made big news a few years ago when he abolished the athletic department at Vanderbilt, proclaiming he wanted his way to become a model for college athletics. He's already said he won't try to do the same thing at Ohio State. Why not? He has said over and over that's the way of the future.

Hypocritical? Of course it is.

Gee has always been far too willing to speak on issues about which he is not informed. A year ago, when New York Times reporter Pete Thamel was writing stories about Auburn's sociology department, he frequently quoted Gee. Gee was willing to talk, and to criticize. And he knew little if anything about what was actually happening.

It's going to be interesting to see what Gee does now. Ohio State has somehow avoided serious NCAA trouble in football, but its athletic program has certainly not been one of the cleaner ones around. What is Gee going to do when the next Maurice Clarett comes along? When Ohio State signs athletes with questionable academic backgrounds, is he going to say the same kinds of things he said at Vanderbilt?

Maybe I'll be proved wrong. Maybe Gee will force Ohio State's athletic program to become an academic model for the country. Maybe he'll make it another Vanderbilt.

And maybe it will snow tomorrow.

Perhaps the problem with Gee, Brand and others of their ilk is that they are too idealistic. Perhaps they don't understand the backgrounds from which many college athletes come. They don't seem to have any interest in the opportunities athletics gives so many young people who otherwise wouldn't have those opportunities.

In their view of the world, someone like Marquis Daniels would have been denied the opportunity to go to school at Auburn, where he graduated in 3 1/2 years. There are too many similar stories to count.

So, goodbye and good luck, Dr. Gee. You have left a school where your ideas could take root in fertile ground and gone to one of the many that epitomize all the things you have said are wrong with college athletics.

Will you have the guts to try to change or even to criticize the athletics culture at Ohio State and in the Big Ten?

I think we all know the answer.

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More copies of Phillip's book, "The Auburn Experience," have become available for purchase at a reduced price. An oversized coffee table book published in December 2004, the book features more than 300 slick pages of stories and photographs of many of Auburn's greatest traditions, teams, players and coaches in every sport. Originally selling for $69, it is available now for just $20, plus $5 shipping and handling. For orders of multiple books, there will be just one $5 charge for shipping and handling. Send check or money order made payable to Phillip Marshall to The Auburn Experience, P.O. Box 968, Auburn, AL 36831.

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