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Gene Smith opens up about Ohio State athletics’ ‘glory years’

Cody Cousino / Photo editor

As the scandal that eventually became known as “Tattoo-Gate” unfolded around the Ohio State football program, few people faced more criticism than OSU athletic director Gene Smith.
Tuesday, in an exclusive interview with The Lantern, Smith said OSU’s athletic program was “glad to have (the scandal) behind us,” and was finally moving forward.

“We’re truly in our glory years,” Smith said of the athletic department.

And Smith said that means OSU has learned from previous issues, and has made changes to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Changes in compliance
After more than 10 suspensions involving the OSU football program in the last year, many have questioned the job performance of OSU’s compliance staff.

Smith said compliance has increased its monitoring of athletes, especially outside of the university. When OSU becomes aware of potential violations, Smith said OSU investigates the matter directly by sending an employee to the place in question.

Barber shops, stores, restaurants – Smith said OSU employees will go to address potential issues wherever they might be.

Smith said this was happening before, but not to the same scale.

“We know some of the bouncers downtown,” Smith said. “We have someone on staff now, when we identify something we send them.”

OSU has also changed how it monitors student-athletes with cars.

“Our car program was under attack,” Smith said. “There was nothing there actually, but we said OK, we could do some things better as a result of that, so we tightened up our registration program for our cars. So we strengthened that significantly.”

Future of college football
OSU football coach Urban Meyer already expressed his apprehension about college football shifting its postseason from the current BCS system to a four-team playoff, and Smith said he has concerns as well.

“The BCS was taken for granted,” Smith said. “It did some marvelous things, particularly for the regular season.”

Despite Meyer’s and Smith’s qualms, the change is under way.

Conference representatives have been meeting to discuss the details, but agreed on adopting a four-team playoff format at the end of each season.
If a playoff diminishes the importance of the regular season and doesn’t adequately take a team’s strength of schedule into consideration, Smith said OSU could potentially change the way the football program schedules out-of-conference games.

OSU has agreements to play traditionally strong out-of-conference opponents like Virginia Tech in 2015 and Oklahoma in 2016, but marquee matchups could become a thing of the past.
“If our ultimate goal is to win a conference championship and to win a national championship, then we’re going to minimize our risk in the non-conference season,” Smith said.

OSU self-reported 46 NCAA violations committed across 21 sports since May 30, 2011, but Smith said the violations weren’t especially worrisome.

All of the violations were considered secondary, meaning repercussions from the NCAA are unlikely and according to Smith, the number is consistent with what the university normally reports on a yearly basis.

“If we only had 10 (violations), I’d have a problem, because people are going to make mistakes,” Smith said. “That means if I only have 10 out of 350 employees and 1,000 athletes, something’s not right.”

Smith said he supported former Buckeye linebacker Andrew Sweat in his decision to walk away from a potential NFL career to potentially pursue law school.

Concussions, which have made national news lately for the devastating affects they’ve had on some former football players, played a major role in Sweat’s decision.

“I’m actually glad Andrew Sweat is going to law school. He’s a smart kid,” Smith said.

In a 2010 interview with The Lantern, Smith revealed that he suffered two concussions during his own playing career.

“I remember them specifically, and I know there are guys who had more than that,” Smith said during the 2010 interview. “So when they’re 60, 70 years old I think they’re going to have problems. So I’m glad that someone’s (the NFL) doing something about it.”

Sweat suffered from concussion symptoms during his time at OSU, and Smith said the issue is something the medical staff takes very seriously.

“No coach has a call on whether a student-athlete goes in or comes out,” Smith said. “If (the doctors) say he’s sitting, he’s sitting. There’s no debate.”

Retire a Buckeye?
Smith is in his seventh year as OSU’s athletic director and said he has no plans of leaving. He said he still has “passion” for his job, but is living “year by year.”

“I intend to retire here as a Buckeye,” Smith said. “You can never say never that you won’t do something else, but as far as athletic director or athletic administration, this is my last stop.”

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