Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

MICKEY FURFARI

March 4, 2014

Gee, other presidents studying possible athletics rollback

MORGANTOWN — Dr. E. Gordon Gee, now the acclaimed permanent president of West Virginia University for the second time, has a history of national involvement in intercollegiate athletics as well as academic affairs.

In an exclusive interview with me last Friday at Stewart Hall, he said, within similar leadership roles at Vanderbilt and Ohio State, he and other college presidents have discussed various phases of athletics to determine whether some semblance of balance can be restored from the past.

That was in response to some questions raised concerning million dollar coaching contracts, the rising cost of football and basketball game tickets, and shrinking numbers of season-ticket buyers.

As for the situation at the university he now heads, Dr. Gee said he has talked to the chairman of the Board of Governors and was told that “we’re doing very nicely financially.”

He thinks “we have a very careful system of control to which the board and committees look at,” the president replied to an opinion that spending athletically here seemingly has been out of control.

Reminded that football (6-14 for its last 20 games) and men’s basketball (struggling for a winning season after a losing record in 2012-13) are the major revenue producers for the entire sports program, he replied:

“I not only love to win in football and basketball, but I want us to win in everything! My issue with the structure of athletics is to make sure that it’s fully integrated into the life of the university.”

Dr. Gee, who is barely into his third month here, said he thinks athletics need to make sure it’s servicing the university and serving the people of the state with very talented students and very talented coaches.

“I think that what you’re asking me is if I’ve had a chance to see if things could be different. I’m in the process of doing a lot of things different.

“I’ve been here such a short period of time and looking at a number of issues (academically and athletically).”

Dr. Gee emphasized, however, that his No. 1 priority at WVU is to make sure that “we are one institution, speaking with one voice and one set of values.”

He acknowledged that he believed the athletic department appears to be in line with the totality of the overall academic institution in line with his earlier stated philosophy.

Gee, who had led WVU from 1981-85 and also served as Colorado U. president, disbanded the athletic department (per se) at Vanderbilt when he took over there.

But he apparently wanted to tighten up control, and both football and basketball performed well under his realignment even after he left.

“We have an arms race in athletics,” Gee noted. “But it does not make it right,” he agreed. “And I wish we, as presidents, can determine ways to make sure that we bring back things into some semblance of balance.”

He revealed that he has been heavily involved in intercollegiate athletics nationally for some time. “I’m trying to see how we can make that happen,” the president added.

In closing, I’d like to congratulate WVU’s newest permanent president and wish him all the best. I am proud to have known Dr. Gee for nearly 35 years and followed his distinguished career with interest.

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MICKEY FURFARI