Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Bad Egg

It is merely one man's opinion but in the opinion of this one particular man, the gentleman who presently serves as the President of The Ohio State University is a clown. It has been written that with age comes wisdom. From my experience dealing with E. Gordon Gee, it appears as if in his case age has brought with it nothing other than......well, age.

In case you missed it, President Gee recently decreed that two other universities - Boise State University and Texas Christian University - are not worthy of playing for the national championship of college football - because in the opinion of President Gee neither school plays a tough enough schedule to merit a berth in the BCS Championship Game. From my vantage point the fact that on the Friday night of the long Thanksgiving weekend, Boise State lost a game and watched its twenty-four game winning streak move from the present to the past tense lends no credence to Gee's asinine declaration. Boise State lost on the road to another team in its conference that is nationally ranked, which is kinda, sorta exactly the circumstances under which Gee's school (and why does the institution call itself, "The" Ohio State University - is there "An" Ohio State University running around out there somewhere?) lost to Wisconsin earlier this season.

"Well, I don't know enough about the X's and O's of college football," said Gee, formerly the president at West Virginia, Colorado, Brown and Vanderbilt universities. "I do know, having been both a Southeastern Conference president and a Big Ten president, that it's like murderer's row every week for these schools. We do not play the Little Sisters of the Poor. We play very fine schools on any given day." Talk about getting your money's worth. With one slight, Gee managed to insult not simply two other colleges whose football teams have been highly ranked for each of the past several seasons but also each of the colleges and universities whose football teams have opposed Boise State or Texas Christian as well as the other teams who compete against these two juggernauts in their respective conferences. Nicely done Mr. Gee. Nicely done.

About a million years ago - back when he was the President of the University of Colorado - I had the pleasure of spending some quality face-to-face time with him. In the Spring of 1986, shortly after EGG had been hired at CU, he spent some time going dorm to dorm to get acquainted with the student body. I lived in Farrand Hall, which was part of our new leader's tour. While his audience was apparently intended to be limited to Farrand's "God Squaders" (the kids at every college who walk around campus with the lips plastered to the posterior of the powers-that-be) they forgot to post a guard at the door of the room where the meet and greet was taking place. So, after having spent some quality time playing poker, smoking cheap cigars and drinking even cheaper beer, my friends and I made the long trip down from the fourth floor to hear the man himself pontificate.

Gun to my head I cannot recall most of what it was he spoke about. Having just read his faux self-deprecating remarks about not knowing anything about college football, I am reminded of the fact that one of things he spoke of was college basketball. At CU, we have a long and decidedly unspectacular history of college hoops - especially on the men's side. Other than the Golden Years (a/k/a the two years that Chauncey Billups played for the Buffs before taking his talents to the NBA) the Buffs have been fairly dreadful for the past three decades or so. You can look it up. Trust me, all the gory details are there in black and white. I arrived on campus in September 1985, just in time to catch what would be the final year of Tom Apke's tenure as the man in charge of the hoops program. In his final season on the bench, the Buffs won only eight of twenty-eight games and went winless in the Big Eight (0-14). At season's end, Coach Apke was fired.

Given that CU played at that time in the Big Eight Conference, which had some of the nation's better basketball teams in it, a fair amount of attention was paid to the coaching search. And in the first hire of EGG's Presidency, CU hired Tom Miller. Miller came to CU from Cornell, which had in the 1984-85 season finished in second place in the Ivy League. Apparently, that bridesmaid's finish - along with the money to be saved by not having to order new monogram shirts for the head coach since they could foist off on Miller those they had ordered for Apke - was enough to get Miller the job. On April 2, 1986 Tom Miller was hired as the 14th head mens' basketball coach in CU history.

While I do not recall specifically the night on which my path and EGG's path crossed at Farrand Hall, it was within a couple of days of the Miller hiring. When the floor was opened to questions from the audience, against the advice of counsel (my neighbor Bill Winters) I raised my hand and asked Mr. Gee about the decision to hire a coach who appeared to have no shot of making the Buffs competitive in the Big Eight. Our exchange became a bit spirited and much to the delight of those gathered at his knee to hear him talk, EGG pointed out just how great a job Miller had done leading Cornell to a second place finish in the Ivy League. There was far less delight palpable in the room when I pointed out to him that only a couple of weeks earlier in the NCAA tournament the Ivy League champs (Brown) had been dismantled by Syracuse in Round 1 by more than fifty points and asked him - had Cornell played Syracuse - whether he thought it likely that Miller's men would have even scored.

After several minutes of back and forth, EGG forgot that he knew nothing about college hoops (he threw off the cloak of faux self-deprecation that he put on again just the other day) and decreed that under Coach Miller's leadership the Buffs would become national title contenders immediately and would be playing in the Final Four in Denver when we were the designated host school in 1990. EGG hoped that his decree would be the final word on the subject, as did the evening's moderator, but it was not. I laughed out loud when he said what he said, which understandably annoyed him. I then told him that as an out-of-state student I would be willing to bet him that what he had first said that evening was correct, which was that he was talking out of his a** and knew nothing of the subject of college basketball. I offered to make it interesting and to wager him a full refund of my four year out-of-state tuition versus a pledge from me to make donations to CU in an amount equal to that tuition nut over the success of the basketball program under Coach Miller. I told him that his optimism was unfounded and that under Miller's tutelage our basketball team would continue to be cannon fodder for everyone we played and that the only way anyone from the CU basketball program would get on the floor at the Final Four in Denver four years hence would be with a pass. I also told him that I was willing to bet that under Miller the team would never win more than a dozen games in a season and that Miller would be let go when the four-year contract he signed on April 2, 1986 expired. EGG refused to accept my bet, telling me that it would be inappropriate for him to take my money. He seemed really irate when I laughed out loud at that comment.

The evening ended with no bet being made. EGG and I never spent any time in one another's company again either. He did however spend some time with my sister Jill about a week after he stopped by Farrand Hall. Jill lived in Baker Hall and as the President of the Dorm was involved in scheduling the night that EGG stopped by there to chat with the residents. Upon being introduced to my sister, EGG asked her if she had any brothers and when she told him that she had a brother who lived in Farrand Hall he told her that I was, "quite a headstrong and opinionated young man", which are two traits that I clearly left in the rear-view mirror a long, long time ago.

What he could not have known that evening - and likely would never have admitted it even had he known - was that his headstrong and opinionated young jousting partner was 100% right. Tom Miller coached the Buffs from the 1986-87 season through the 1989-90 season. During his four years at the helm, the team went 9-19, 7-21, 7-21 and 12-18. When the 89-90 season ended so did Miller Time in Boulder. In 1990, the Final Four was played in Denver Colorado and the University of Colorado was the "host" school. The four participants were Duke University, Georgia Tech University, University of Arkansas and UNLV. Apparently, the dozen victories CU earned that year on the hardwood were not enough to garner an at-large bid to the Big Dance.

It is interesting - but not surprising - to see that twenty-five years further on up the road, EGG is still talking out of his a** on the subject of college athletics. Clearly he brings something to the table as a president of major American universities. He should continue to play to those strengths and adopt a vow of silence about those subjects about which he knows nothing. And in the interim he should remember that as the president of one school, he does nothing but besmirch the reputation of the school he leads when he belittles the achievements of student-athletes at other institutions.

Note to self: I shall check back in another quarter-century to see if he has learned anything. Second note to self: I shall not hold my breath in the interim.


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