COLUMBUS: The president of Ohio State University said Notre Dame was never invited to join the Big Ten because the university’s priests are not good partners, joking that “those damn Catholics” can’t be trusted, according to a recording of a meeting he attended late last year.
Gordon Gee also took shots at schools in the Southeastern Conference and the University of Louisville, according to the recording of the December meeting of the school’s Athletic Council that the Associated Press obtained under a public records request.
The university called the statements inappropriate and said Gee is undergoing a “remediation plan” because of the remarks.
Gee was on a long-planned family vacation and not available for comment, said Ohio State spokeswoman Gayle Saunders. He apologized in a statement released to the AP.
“The comments I made were just plain wrong, and in no way do they reflect what the university stands for,” he said in the statement. “They were a poor attempt at humor and entirely inappropriate. There is no excuse for this and I am deeply sorry.”
Gee, who has taken heat before for uncouth remarks, told members of the council that 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, several other athletic department members, 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.
The Big Ten had for years courted Notre Dame, but the school resisted as it sought to retain its independent status in college football. In September, the school announced it would join the Atlantic Coast Conference in all sports except football but would play five football games each year against ACC teams.
In the recording, Gee referred specifically to dealing with the Rev. Ned Joyce, Notre Dame’s longtime executive vice president, who died in 2004.
“Father Joyce was one of those people who ran the university for many, many years,” Gee said.
Gee said the Atlantic Coast Conference added Notre Dame at a time when it was feeling vulnerable.
“Notre Dame wanted to have its cake and eat it, too,” Gee said, according to the recording and a copy of the meeting’s minutes.
Notre Dame spokesman Dennis Brown called the remarks regrettable, especially the reference to Joyce, “who served Notre Dame and collegiate athletics so well and for so long.”
Gee contacted Notre Dame’s president, the Rev. John Jenkins, to offer an apology that was accepted, Brown said Thursday in an email, declining to say when the apology was made.
Notre Dame has a storied collegiate football history and is perhaps the nation’s pre-eminent Roman Catholic university. Ohio State, with about 56,000 students on its main campus, is among the country’s biggest universities, and it has its own long football tradition.
A message was left with Smith, the Ohio State athletic director who attended the December meeting, and who is also a 1977 Notre Dame graduate. NCAA President Mark Emmert declined to comment, saying he hadn’t heard the remarks.
Ohio State’s Athletic Council meets monthly during the fall, winter and spring and makes recommendations on athletic policy including ticket prices. December’s meeting was at Ohio Stadium.
Gee was introduced by Athletic Council then-Chairman Charlie Wilson, and Gee’s name and introduction are included in written minutes of the meeting. His comments drew laughter, at times loud, occasionally nervous, but no rebukes, according to the audio.
Ohio State trustees learned of Gee’s “offensive statements” in January, met with the president at length and created the remediation plan for Gee to “address his behavior,” board President Robert Schottenstein said in a statement.
Comments by a university leader about “particular groups, classes of people or individuals are wholly unacceptable,” Schottenstein said. “These statements were inappropriate, were not presidential in nature and do not comport with the core values of the university.”
Gee has gotten in trouble before for offhand remarks, most recently during a memorabilia-for-cash and tattoos scandal under football coach Jim Tressel’s watch.
Gee was asked in March 2011 whether he had considered firing Tressel. He responded: “No, are you kidding? Let me just be very clear: I’m just hopeful the coach doesn’t dismiss me.” Tressel stepped down three months later.
In November 2010, Gee boasted that Ohio State’s football schedule didn’t include teams on par with the “Little Sisters of the Poor.” An apologetic Gee later sent a personal check to the real Little Sisters of the Poor in northwest Ohio and followed up with a visit to the nuns months later.
Last year, Gee apologized for comparing the problem of coordinating the school’s many divisions to the Polish army, a remark that a Polish-American group called bigoted and ignorant.
In 1992, in a moment of frustration over higher education funding, Gee told a student newspaper reporter, “the governor’s a damn dummy.” Then-Gov. George Voinovich laughed it off and the two became allies.