Ohio State bigwigs defend football team, BCS championship game

Todd Porter

In a football setting with burly players who have muscles in their eyelids, Gordon Gee fits in about as well as a poodle on Bourbon Street. But the bow tie-wearing president of Ohio State University held his own talking football and the state of the college game.

Gee wore a wide smile Thursday afternoon because Ohio State is headed to New Orleans after New Years to play LSU in the BCS National Championship game. The one-loss Buckeyes fell back into the college football’s top spot when a half dozen other teams couldn’t close the deal during the final weeks of the season.

This tumultuous season has led even defenders of the current BCS setup to think college football’s method of determining a champ is broke. Not Gee.

He said college football can have a playoff over his dead body.

“As far as a playoff system is concerned, there will not be one,” Gee said. “They will wrench a playoff system out of my cold, dead hands. It’s too much of moving toward having universities being farm clubs for the pros.”

Buckeye Head Coach Jim Tressel said Ohio State does not have to apologize to anyone for making it to the title game. However, he acknowledged, the system is not perfect.

“Just like (Thomas) Edison used to say, there’s always a better way to do this. Let’s find it,” Tressel said. “We’ve been doing that over history. We’ve changed things methodically over the course of history. I’m sure 10 years from now, it’s not going to look exactly how it does (now).

“There have been some things that limit how we can change it. We went to 12 games. We’ve done some things on both ends that have squeezed what the options are.”

Ohio State critics are as easy to find as beads on Bourbon Street. The Buckeyes played an easy schedule; they lost a conference game at home to Illinois; and they won the Big Ten, considered by The Sporting News as “the worst conference among the Big Six.”

Does Ohio State have to win this game to earn back the respect of the country?

“I’m sure if the national perspective took a step back and really looked at what the Ohio State football program has done recently (three national title appearances in six years), it would match up to most any,” Tressel said. “So, no, I don’t think we need to, for that reason.”

Even Gee defended his football program, however skewed it may be compared to academics.

“Our coaches and our team are already winners,” Gee said. “We don’t need to prove anything to anyone. We’ve been through a very difficult season in a very competitive conference in a very competitive world, and we’ve come out ranked where we are. ... We’re playing a great team. I know LSU very well having just come from the Southeastern Conference. I know even though we are ranked No. 1, we are the underdogs.”

When Gee was hired as the school’s president earlier this year, a position he held before in Columbus, many fans wondered if he would make drastic changes to the OSU athletic department. He eliminated the athletic department administration at Vanderbilt, but Gee has said he isn’t stupid, and he enjoys his job as Ohio State’s president.

He even poked fun at it.

During a recent Big Ten vote among conference presidents, Gee agreed to a schedule that would create a bye week during a 12-week season but move the Ohio State-Michigan game to the weekend after Thanksgiving. That’s a move Tressel didn’t necessarily want. Gee did not speak with Tressel or Athletic Director Gene Smith prior to voting.

“It was one of those things where I discussed it with them afterwards and said, ‘Oops,’ ” Gee said, laughing. “The difference between Vanderbilt and Ohio State is at Vanderbilt, the athletic director worked for me.”

Gee’s bag of one-liners weren’t empty.

“I’m grateful to be back in the public sector in which I earn less money than the football coach. The world is back in balance,” he said.

At the start of 2007, Gee attended a renaissance weekend with other college president and academia types.

“It’s where a lot of very smart people get together and talk for four days about important issues,” Gee said. “This year, I’m going to be screaming like hell (in New Orleans). My job does change.”

Reach Canton Repository sports writer Todd Porter at (330) 580-8340 or e-mail: todd.porter@cantonrep.com