After months of limited communication from Ohio State officials on NCAA violations committed by the athletic department and football team, some of the biggest names associated with OSU finally addressed the issue.
Their voices were not uniform, however. At least one trustee’s comments drew an immediate rebuke from the chairman and had two other members scrambling to explain his remarks.
Trustee Robert Schottenstein said Thursday that a committee of trustees along with administration will be reviewing the school’s response to the violations during the next 30 to 45 days. Schottenstein, along with President E. Gordon Gee, Board of Trustees chairman Leslie Wexner, and trustee Jerry Jurgensen all made further comments during a final board of trustees meeting Friday.
Jurgensen, the retired chief executive officer of Nationwide Insurance, said the most important thing is not with the policies and rules, but with the cultural work of the university.
“The cracks here weren’t really cracks of rules, procedures, and policies, they were cracks in a value system,” Jurgensen said. “I think we have a lot to learn on sort of the manual aspects of this, but I think we also have a lot to look at it in sort of the soul searching of what is most important in the game of life.”
Responding to Jurgensen’s comments, Wexner, founder of Limited Brands, said he didn’t think the university had soul searching to do, but instead celebrating all the good the university has accomplished.
“There has obviously been a lot of attention paid over the last several months to our athletic programs… in my view the university is successful and goes forward,” Wexner said. “In many ways we are serving the public better than we ever have.”
Both Wexner and Jurgensen declined to comment after the board meeting was over, but Gee and Schottenstein said Jurgensen’s comments were misunderstood.
When asked initially if he disagreed with Jurgensen’s comments, Gee said “absolutely” and that the university was moving forward, but that he thought the comments were taken out of context.
“I know Mr. Jurgensen very well and he’s talking about the overall issue of our culture,” Gee said. “He and I have talked about (the fact) that our culture is one that we need to constantly look at and to make sure we are improving ourselves.”
Schottenstein said he thought the comments more referred to some of the bigger, general issues across the country in collegiate athletics as opposed to just the issues at OSU.
“I do not believe that we have a value system problem at Ohio State, I just don’t,” Schottenstein said.
So why had the university and board remained silent until now? Wexner said as a board they decided to focus their full energy and attention with the administration on making sure the correct processes and protocols were in place rather than engage in public comment.
One of the reasons Schottenstein said they did not say anything until now was because they were not ready.
“We take this very seriously and we did not want to be premature in airing specifics that might be taken out of context, or otherwise speculate on things before we had concluded our work,” Schottenstein said. “We’re not done, but we are ready to say some things.”
Among the up to six-week review of how the university handled and reported violationsto the NCAA, Schottenstein said a committee of trustees will also asses the compliance programs university wide over a six- to nine-month stretch and possibly make changes toward “centralizing” the compliance offices.
“We think we need to look at the current structure to see if it needs to be changed,” Schottenstein said. “If we had to make a decision today, we might come down that way, but we want to gather more data, we want to benchmark, and we want to really think about what is best.”
He also added that the NCAA been to OSU several times and said they have claimed OSU’s athletic compliance process to be “outstanding.”
Gee said it has been a “turbulent” spring, but that they have learned a great deal .”I just wanted to say to all of you who are outside of this boundary that the board and I share a very common commitment…that our compliance is best in class,” Gee said. “We will demonstrate that, we will raise the bar higher, we will do what we have to do to make certain that we continue to set that standard high for ourselves and for others.”