Rick Pitino’s Takedown Of Gordon Gee Echoes The Consensus Public SentimentPosted by Chris Johnson on June 4th, 2013
Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
College athletics was verbally assailed from every conceivable broad-issue dimension last week. You know this: Religion, academics and the spending habits of one (very important) conference commissioner were the highlights of Ohio State President Gordon Gee’s incendiary comments from the school’s December athletic council, all captured on tape and released to a predictably irate interweb last week. The most poignant barbs were directed at the SEC and the quality of its academic institutions, along with Notre Dame’s stubborn negotiating tactics, which Gee attributed to the large contingent of “damn catholics” active in the Irish’s athletic department. He also, in mind-numbingly idiotic fashion, went all in on his own conference, including urging Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany to “keep his hands out of our pockets” and Wisconsin’s former “thug” of a head football coach, Bret Bielema, now at Arkansas. For a man of such power and outsized influence, for someone who’s been praised for his ability to rake in exorbitant sums through fundraising (and roundly mocked for his snobbish bow-tie purchases), for someone expected to project poise, public tact and the utmost aplomb in any and all public speaking situations, Gee instead turned himself into a national media punching bag, further cheapened his already disgraced national reputation (this isn’t the first time Gee has spoken out, and immediately regretted it afterwards, mind you) and prompted the trustees at OSU to issue a stern admonition that Gee just shut up before you embarrass us any more than you already have.
In college basketball land, where a mostly quiet stasis tends to settle in around this time of year, an occasional once-or-twice-in-a-decade recruiting talent like Andrew Wiggins disrupting the calm every now and then, there was nothing particularly incendiary – besides the general religious and academic wisecracks, of course – to get worked up about. Before Gee’s full audio script was laid bare for public consumption, no one would have guessed the Ohio State President had any specific reason or ulterior motive to let his deranged blather spill into the most passionate compacted locale of college basketball diehards in the country. But then again, when was last time logic or rational thinking ever helped anyone try to understand one of Gee’s ill-mannered public monologues?
In discussing Big Ten expansion, and mentioning the importance of adding “institutions of like-minded academic integrity,” Gee followed up by firmly discounting Louisville and Kentucky from the list of possible additions. It was a direct swipe at UL and UK’s educational merits, and Gee, in the midst of his grandiose rant, couldn’t possibly have stopped to consider the dangerous combination of topics he hit on, and what backlash he would immediately and forcefully receive from Louisville’s Rick Pitino. The national championship-winning coach went on WHAS’ Terry Meiner show last week to air his discontent, and Pitino didn’t make any efforts to bite his tongue or restrain his animosity.
“Sometimes ignorance is bliss. It’s among coaches, it’s among politicians and now it’s among presidents,” Pitino said on the show. “I’ll tell you what really gets me boiling with all of it — it’s not Louisville or Kentucky. What gets me boiling is the fact he knocks the Catholics at Notre Dame. I don’t know what denomination he is or what lord he prays to, but trying to get jokes out of that, it really, really boils me.
“It’s just a pompous attitude and certainly I have a major problem with him, not with Ohio State. … He’s a pompous ass for making those statements.”
Going after Louisville and Kentucky, two of the most obsessively intense and vitriolic fan bases (typically, the hate is mutual and borne of good, clean, antagonistic pride, but this may be one of the unique cases where UK and UL fans can raise the pitchforks in unison) was a bad idea from the start. Attacking Catholics was a worse one, and Pitino, a practicing Catholic who just so happens to have won a national championship and – as any basketball coach invested in winning and keeping his players eligible and, oh, just ask UConn about last year’s NCAA Tournament exclusion – we can all safely assume is deeply involved in ensuring his players stay on the academic straight and narrow, Gee picked the wrong man, and the wrong offseason, to speak out. Pitino is one of the few coaches in all of college sports with the credibility, recent winning credibility and sport-specific public cachet to hand Gee a much-deserved verbal flogging. Gee’s comments were blatantly out of line, taken in jest or no, and it’s refreshing to see one of college hoops’ most powerful public figures step up and wield his national championship-winning Q-rating boost, along with his team’s distinguished Big East GPA figure, to say something most college sports fans would very much like to say to Gee themselves. Coach Pitino, thank you for opening the door, now allow me to chime in. President Gee, stop saying egregiously dumb things in public places. You know better.