Updated below with Friday’s comments from Board Members-

This week is the annual Ohio State Board of Trustee meetings, and we’ve known their schedule for a while now.

However, given the “story” that is Ohio State Sports, and given whispers that members of the Board were influential in helping Jim Tressel choose to resign, all eyes and ears have been tuned to these usually dry proceedings to find any hints as to the state of OSU Athletics (including current staffing stability).

Closed glass door = mystery?

And, when you look for a story, you often find or create one to justify your perspective.  On Wednesday, it was reported by 10TV that yet another scandal was brewing, this one at the highest levels. Seems that Wednesday’s “closed door meetings”, was such that folks were concerned that their very nature was a potential violation of Ohio’s Open Meetings Laws ; surely there must be something that “they” are trying to hide.

That someone would deign to break one of the ‘Sunshine Laws’ seems simultaneously ridiculous (especially with current media scrutiny) and just plain adorable. President Gee said that these were not “meetings”, but “dialogue”; as such, they weren’t subject to open meeting guidelines.

And you know what? I believe him.  This “scandal” is not the most interesting thing to happen thus far in the BOT “dialogues”.

That happened today, when trustee Robert H. Schottenstein spoke to the media about a number of topics, including the the current concerns with the Athletic Department.  His comments were actually quite refreshing-

There has never been any attempt to act with concealment or with indifference towards the NCAA, and I can’t emphasize that enough.

We believe we have very sound processes and protocols, many of them have been validated by third parties as being at or near best in class. Still as I said, we believe we can get better.

especially if you’re Gene Smith or Doug Archie, both of whom have every reason to have the air conditioner turned up around their desk chairs in order to mitigate the heat they’re under.

However, later comments would push those feelings of confidence back into the pit of  a professional’s stomach; from the Dispatch-

Ohio State University might move its watchdogs out of the athletic department, where they are asked to ensure that athletes and coaches comply with NCAA regulations, and into a standalone office.

“We want maximum objectivity,” trustee Robert H. Schottenstein said today while emphasizing that he was not criticizing current compliance efforts.

In the wake of an ongoing scandal involving the football team, Schottenstein announced that school officials are considering a centralized compliance office that also would monitor OSU research and medical practices. Those are the university’s largest compliance offices now.

“It’s possible we could go that way,” said Schottenstein, the chairman of the trustees’ Audit and Compliance Committee. The trustees’ study of an independent compliance office, which will take six to nine months, comes as Ohio State deals with NCAA violations that could lead to major penalties for the Buckeyes football team.

In 2005, former athletic director Andy Geiger was asked by then-President Karen Holbrook to more closely align the athletic compliance office with the legal-affairs office to ensure its independence. It’s unclear what came of that effort.

In many ways, this is a good idea- it removes any possible appearance of impropriety. Compliance staff wouldn’t be rubbing elbows with the persons they were monitoring, although it would still need for the remainder of the Athletic staff to work in conjunction with the compliance (read: forward important emails regarding athlete benefits).

But that also may be one of the challenges with this model- it undermines the trust and collegial relationships where reporting happens organically (“we’re all on the same team”). Although, given how well that’s seemingly worked, it may be that a change is long overdue.

What concerns me, though, is if an “us-them” attitude exists between coaches and compliance- think of every cheesy 80′s cop movie and the response when “Internal Affairs” gets involved… That’s just as dangerous as blindness due to overt trust and over familiarity.

Shotttenstein’s comments continued-

We will be reviewing best practices and model programs not just within the academic arena that are at other institutions, but we will also be reviewing model compliance programs in the private sector as well as other non-profit organizations and as I said we will be accessing all aspects of our compliance programs within the university.

And that’s where the speculation begins.

At this point, it would be remiss of me not to draw your attention to the leadership that current Ohio State president E. Gordon Gee showed while in that same position at Vanderbilt- after a review of the existing configuration, he eliminated the Athletic Department altogether, and merged Athletics into the University as a whole.

At the time, this was incredibly controversial (and likely still is), although it received positive reflections from the previous NCAA president-

It is a major shift in the collegiate sports culture. It will be a model for how to embed the operations that have been isolated from the university with similar functions throughout the campus. Their model may not be right for everyone right now, but it is sure to be a topic of discussion as universities manage their athletics programs in the future.

And, it seems as if the Commodores have continued to see fruits of their athletic endeavors; for instance, the men’s baseball team continues to play as a part of the College World Series this year. For a summary of the move, check out this great article from VandySports.com.

However, it should be obvious that “status quo” at Vanderbilt is not the same as status quo at The Ohio State University. Columbus houses one of the largest athletic departments (and subsequent budgets) in the country, and expects off the field and on the field successes that lead the nation.

Yet read Chancellor Gee’s comments following the Vanderbilt decision-

We proved you don’t need an athletic department that is isolated and segregated and separated from the rest of the university and acting as its own entity in some arms race for facilities. We performed surgery on that model. We removed the athletic director and the athletic department. We treat athletics the way we treat physics. What we did was get rid of a lot of mid-level bureaucracy. Our dollars go to student-athletes and coaches, not to a lot of assistant athletic directors and other bureaucratic nonsense.

Again, given the review of the Athletic and Compliance departments by both the OSU Board and the NCAA, as well as the current economic climate in Ohio and the nation, the idea of “streamlining” may not be as outside the box as one might think.

Time to shake things up?

To be clear, I’m neither recommending this idea nor saying that I have “inside information” that it’s on the table. Rather, I wanted Buckeye fans to be sure to have a different perspective on one of the questions that you’ve read me struggle with for a while- “How does large level sports fit into the educational mission and model of a University?” The Vanderbilt model, while not perfect, is one way to begin to answer that question… and is an answer that Ohio State’s president is intimately familiar with.

In today’s comments, Schottenstein also remarked that while the review of the current configuration would take between six to nine months, the Board hoped to have a full reflection and report on the current situation involving the football team no later than about 6 weeks. This would put the report sometime between the university’s response to the NCAA’s Letter of Allegations and a week or so after the August 12 hearing in Indianapolis.

There are also reports that the Board will have a statement on the situation with the football program at some point on Friday.

UPDATE- Several Board members made comments today regarding the state of the athletic department as a part of the ongoing BOT meetings, according to ESPN.

Former CEO of Nationwide Insurance Jerry Jurgensen stated that the current situation is due to a philosophical struggle that many large institutions are facing-

We have a lot to look at in sort of the soul-searching of what is most important in the game of life. The cracks here weren’t really cracks of rules and procedures, they were cracks in a value system, and I think that’s what we have to go back and really take a hard look at. I think that’s what we have to go back and really take a hard look at and ask all of ourselves, not just in the university and the state of Ohio but to some extent the United States of America, what is it we really value? … We have a lot of work in sort of soul-searching what is most important in the game of life.

Board Chair Wexner responded, though, saying that this was not true for the entirety of the University-

I don’t think we have a lot of soul-searching to do, not at all. We have a lot of heart-celebrating to do for the good that this university does.

Wexner also commented later regarding the compliance office and their work with the NCAA-

We’ve got a very sound process of work. I’m pleased and I think the board is pleased with the work to date and the way we’ve progressed that work in an orderly, focused and thorough manner.

Board member Schottenstein echoed these thoughts, and seemed to comment on his remarks from yesterday (see above)-

The NCAA has been in here a number of times and claimed that our athletic compliance process is outstanding. They may be right. That doesn’t mean we don’t want to change it, though.

 

We’ll keep you updated as this story develops further.

2 Comments

  1. silverbuckNo Gravatar
    June 24th, 2011 at 9:12 pm

    Thank you for the update, Mali, and for your insightful commentary.

    I know that there are many in the blogverse (blogiverse? blog-o-verse?) who adhere to the traditionally dichotomous view of college athletics, ie, the pinheads vs. the meatheads. I think that model, though still extant, is outmoded and poisonous. The recent surge in academic performance at tOSU gives me just as much pride and satisfaction as do the recent BCS victories, volleyball NC, and success on the basketball court. The most satisfying aspect of those victorious teams is that they have achieved their athletic goals with young men and women of character, most of whom understand that their contributions to the life of the university extend well beyond the playing field, into the classroom and community.

    Merging the athletic department with the larger university community is not, as some might posit, an act of desperation, rather, it is a rational response to an issue which has been a long-time bone of contention in the academic community. It may not be the right solution for tOSU, but the fact that it is even being discussed gives me hope that serious thought is being given to creative ways to address the problem of big-time college athletics and the tension it creates in any university community.

    It is also refreshing to hear, albeit from a long-time insider, that our compliance department is not the collection of dolts and criminals that recent reports would suggest. Finally, let me hope that these sentiments get the widespread and favorable coverage that they deserve. It would be nice to hear someone outside Buckeye Nation say something nice for a change.

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  2. OKBuckeyeNo Gravatar
    June 25th, 2011 at 8:55 am

    Bottom line, Athletics should be treated like a Department within a University, not a stand alone entity or as a Division. Just like I think it was a great idea to separate student athlete support service from athletics and organize them with student support services for all students, I like the concept of compliance for the entire university being a part of a compliant operation (either stand alone or as a functional unit within legal affairs).

    Collegiality and transparency is born if leadership and hiring the right people as coaches. There should be nothing to fear if we simply follow the rules, so I think this is all really positive and indicates an incredibly strong sense of institutional control.

    Think anyone in the SEC football factories would withstand outside compliance within their programs…I can hear the complaints from the Devil Saban and the idiotic Hatter just from the idea being thrown out.

    [Reply]

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