DESTIN, Fla. -- According to Ohio State president Gordon Gee, this column should be riddled with misspellings, grammar gaffes and run-on sentences. I'm illiterate, you see. I graduated from a school that belongs to the Southeastern Conference. Gee, the former Vanderbilt chancellor who never once declined a cut of bowl money his school didn't earn, survived his six years in the South to return to the ivory towers of the Big Ten so he could report -- like Jane Goodall describing the great apes -- on the academic deficiencies of the football factories below the Mason-Dixon Line.
At a meeting of Ohio State's Athletic Council on Dec. 5, someone asked Gee how to respond to the nuclear physicists in SEC country who find it hilarious that an 11-team conference that expanded to 12 and then 14 schools still calls itself the Big Ten. "You tell the SEC when they can learn to read and write, then they can figure out what we're doing," Gee cracked, according to an audio recording of the meeting obtained by The Associated Press. I tried to seek a response from the SEC graduates and employees gathered here on the Redneck Riviera for the SEC's annual spring meetings, but they were all crammed into a hallway trying to decipher runes next to a stick figure of someone in a dress on a wall sign. I escaped only because, once, during a trip to East Lansing for work, a wise Big Ten graduate taught me to sound out W-O-M-E-N so I might avoid the embarrassment of wandering into the incorrect lavatory.
In Gee's defense, he probably once knew that "the SEC" is a singular entity and that he should have used "it" instead of "they," but six years spent at an SEC school -- the good one, no less -- probably siphoned off the brain cells that control plural-singular agreement.
At least I'm not Catholic. Then Gee might really think ill of me. He ripped Catholics, Notre Dame and specifically late school CFO Edmund Joyce. "The fathers are holy on Sunday, and they're holy hell on the rest of the week," Gee said. Later, he said, "You just can't trust those damn Catholics on a Thursday or a Friday, and so, literally, I can say that." Just imagine if Father Joyce had run the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Catholic institution whose football programs Gee holds in such contempt.
This is the part where, as a certified Internet writer-type-person, I'm supposed to call for Jim Tressel to fire Gordon Gee. (He can still do that, right?) But I won't. Because while we have thinner books, we SEC grads have thicker skin. Gee was clearly joking. Poorly. But joking nonetheless.
Catholics may take more offense, but Gee is lucky he picked one of the handful of faiths people are allowed to publicly mock without becoming pariahs. The fine folks at Louisville, the school Gee singled out for academic failings, might be more than a little angry. Louisville's Tom Jurich, one of the smartest athletic directors in the country, might have a few ideas about how to rearrange Gee's bow tie. But those offended should understand that these are merely the words of a man accustomed to chewing on tasseled loafers. Gee has issued a statement of apology and called Notre Dame president John Jenkins to personally apologize. At this point, Gee's assistant probably has an apology template reminiscent of a Mad Lib.
I offer my deepest and sincerest apologies to anyone who was offended by my comments about ____________ (enter name of insulted school/religion/ethnic group). I did not choose my words carefully, and my statements did not reflect the opinion of _________ (The Ohio State University/the state of Ohio/the Big Ten/bowtie wearers/all of the above).
Gee is far too valuable to Ohio State to allow his wayward mouth to derail his administration. He's a fundraising powerhouse who, according to the Dayton Daily News, helped raise more than $1.6 billion for the school in his first five years on the job. Badmouthing a major world religion and a football cult that might be overzealous shouldn't stop Gee. We all say stupid things. Some of us elect to write stupid things.
Gee didn't whip basketballs at anyone's head. He wasn't stealing, though $532 in university funds for a shower curtain might be considered at least petty larceny. He just opened his mouth and said something dumb in a public meeting.
Now, the people who got their chops busted by Gee get to bust his chops right back. Instead of getting offended, we can just laugh. Because when Gordon Gee opens his mouth, what comes out is usually funny -- though not necessarily in the way Gee intended.
Besides, Gee is correct. In the aggregate, the schools of the Big Ten are academically superior to the schools of the SEC. And if you don't believe that, just ask the Big Ten grad who on Wednesday celebrated a "unanimous" 13-1 SEC scheduling vote.