Trustees: Gee 'embarrassed' Ohio St.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio State's top trustees say insensitive comments by the university president have embarrassed and divided the university.

The trustees say in a letter to president Gordon Gee that his comments risk diminishing the collective efforts of the university and of Gee's own good work.

The March 11 letter was obtained Friday by The Associated Press. It lays out several steps Gee must take following the revelation of remarks he made last year jabbing Notre Dame, Roman Catholics and the Southeastern Conference.

Gee, who has taken heat previously for uncouth remarks, told members of the school's athletic council late last year that Notre Dame never was invited to join the Big Ten because the university's priests are not good partners.

Gee said he negotiated with Notre Dame officials during his first term at Ohio State, which began more than two decades ago.

"The fathers are holy on Sunday, and they're holy hell on the rest of the week," Gee said to laughter at the Dec. 5 meeting attended by athletic director Gene Smith and several other athletic department members, along with professors and students. "You just can't trust those damn Catholics on a Thursday or a Friday, and so, literally, I can say that," said Gee, a Mormon.

Gee apologized in a statement Thursday and again on Twitter Thursday night.

"I am truly sorry for my comments-such attempts at humor do not reflect Ohio State values, nor my role as its president," the tweet said.

In their letter, the trustees laid out steps Gee must take including issuing personal apologies, getting help from professionals to revisit his personal communications and speechwriting processes and rethinking what speaking engagements he accepts.

Trustees told Gee that his attempts "to bring a bit of levity" to significant issues have had the opposite effect at times.

"As a result, instead of your words promoting and uniting us, they have sometimes embarrassed and divided us," trustee chairman Robert Schottenstein and trustee Alex Shumate, who led the search committee that hired Gee in 2007, said in the three-page letter obtained through a records request.

"Such comments are not befitting a great university like Ohio State or its leadership," the letter continued. It added: "Although we do not believe that you intended harm, such comments risk diminishing the effectiveness of our collective efforts and of your good work."

The letter said Gee is making progress on the board's list of requirements.

"Your willingness to seek guidance and counsel on multiple levels, from a variety of sources, on how to adapt and grow is a hallmark of your leadership style and one that we value highly," the letter said.

University and athletic conference officials have almost universally called Gee's remarks inappropriate but also said his apology has been accepted.

During his comments to the athletic council, Gee took shots at Arkansas coach Bret Bielema and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, and questioned the academic integrity of schools in the SEC and the University of Louisville. Gee has since emailed an apology to Bielema.

Bielema was the coach at Wisconsin before leaving for Arkansas and the SEC in a surprising move after last season. Gee said that was a good thing for the Big Ten.

"Someone was saying to me, 'Well, you know, Bret Bielema leaving ... that was a blessing for Wisconsin and they knew it,' " Gee said, according to the full tape published by SI.com. " 'Because he was under tremendous pressure. They didn't like him. (Wisconsin AD) Barry Alvarez thought he was a thug. And he left just ahead of the sheriff.' "

Alvarez released a statement Friday saying Gee had called him to apologize last week.

"I have never said that about Bret, nor had those feelings toward him. I accepted Gordon's apology and consider the matter closed," Alvarez said in the statement.

Arkansas AD Jeff Long was not so quick to dismiss the comments, saying in a statement Saturday that he was "deeply troubled by the unfounded and slanderous remarks."

Delany's name also came up when Gee answered a question about preserving Ohio State's financial interests in light of Big Ten revenue-sharing plans.

"No one admires Jim Delany more than I do -- I chaired the committee that brought him here," Gee said. "Jim is very aggressive, and we need to make certain he keeps his hands out of our pockets while we support him."

Gee also spoke a lot about the Big Ten's expansion plans during the meeting.

The top goal of Big Ten presidents is to "make certain that we have institutions of like-minded academic integrity," Gee said. "So you won't see us adding Louisville," a member of the Big East conference that is also joining the ACC.

After a pause followed by laughter from the audience, Gee added that the Big Ten wouldn't add Kentucky, either.

Gee said he thought it was a mistake not to include the Big 12's Missouri and Kansas in earlier Big Ten plans. Missouri has since joined the SEC.

"I think the Big Ten needs to be predatory and positive rather than waiting for other people to take away from them," Gee said. "Very candidly, I think we made a mistake. Because (we) thought about adding Missouri and Kansas at the time. There was not a great deal of enthusiasm about that. I think we should have done that at the time. So we would have had Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas and then moved into that other (Midwest) area. I think, by the way, that that can still happen."

When asked by a questioner how to respond to SEC fans who say the Big Ten can't count because it now has 14 members, Gee said, "You tell the SEC when they can learn to read and write, then they can figure out what we're doing. I've been down there. I was the chairman of the Southeastern Conference for two years. I'll tell you something. It's shameful. It really is."

Gee also expressed enthusiasm about the Big Ten moving into the ACC's territory on the East coast. Maryland's defection to the Big Ten has left the ACC vulnerable in the mid-Atlantic region, Gee said, and makes Virginia, Duke and North Carolina possible Big Ten additions.

"This is a high possibility," Gee said. "If the ACC continues to struggle, and Florida State goes off to the SEC or something like that, and Clemson moves in a different direction, all of a sudden Virginia and Duke, which are very similar institutions to -- and North Carolina -- which are very similar institutions to the Big Ten, there is a real possibility that we may end up having that kind of 'T' which goes south. And I could see them joining us. And I could see them having a real interest in joining us."

Schools already in Big Ten territory, such as Pitt and Cincinnati, were out of the question as expansion targets.

"Even though we love Cincinnati as a city, we want it to be an Ohio State city," Gee said.

Gee intended that his speculation on expansion "remains right here," according to the tape.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.