Two of the biggest stories of the college football offseason, how cost of attendance awards for student athletes are determined and administered, and the prospect of additional Big 12 expansion, extend beyond the offices of coaches and athletic directors.
One whose office is caught in both of those majors issues is the always loquacious Dr. Gordon Gee, previously the president at Ohio State, Colorado and Brown and the chancellor at Vanderbilt.
Currently in a second term as the president at West Virginia University, we caught up with Dr. Gee to get his thoughts on these, and some of the other prevailing issues in college athletics today.
SB Nation: One offseason issue that we've paid close attention to is how universities are handling the new cost of attendance rules, allowing them to give stipends. Some have expressed concern over the wildly different approaches some schools are taking. Are you comfortable with how this process has played out so far?
Dr. Gee: First of all, I believe in cost of attendance as a general rule. I was very supportive of us upping the opportunities for us to provide scholarship support for our student-athletes. It's been arbitrarily low in some ways, as we do provide scholarships for tuition and books, but then when it comes to their ability to take on a work-study job, they're limited, whereas other students that are on scholarship can do so.
I think that student athletes should be treated like student band members and student physics majors, and that we need to treat them as students, and have the same general rules apply. The NCAA has become too restrictive.
Saying that, I think that this is a new world, and we need to figure out how this new world is going to operate, and it will take a while to shake itself out. I suspect what will happen either the NCAA, or the conferences, or both, will start coming up with some common approaches so that there isn't a huge variation to the way these are being dealt with.
SB Nation: There are some big disparities between what different schools in the Big 12 are projected to offer. Have you heard from anyone concerned about those disparities?
Dr. Gee: Cost of attendance means that, we have very low tuition compared to some of our peers. The cost of attendance in Morgantown, West Virginia, at a low-cost institution is going to be different from TCU or Baylor, which are private. And of course, the cost of attendance at Vanderbilt (where Gee was previously chancellor) would be significantly different as well, from a Colorado, or an Ohio State.
SB Nation: From your vantage point, what would you say are the next biggest upcoming challenges facing university administrators and college athletics?
Dr. Gee: I do believe in a great college athletic program, one that brings credit to the institution and opportunity to the student athlete, and one that represents the university very well. That may be idealistic, but that's what I believe.
I believe that any time we over-commercialize or over-regulate and take away from those fundamental principles then we create a very serious dynamic that are not healthy.
Now, saying that, I'd say that athletics are very much in the crosshairs, and at a crossroads. The crosshairs, obviously, are all the lawsuits that have been filed and all the turmoil that has created, and the crossroads is when we all have to make a decision about what really is the role of collegiate athletics within universities.
We increasingly let the tail wag the dog, and how do we bring that into some set of balance? That, of course, is an issue we've struggled with for years, but it's become large now, particularly for large division universities.
SB Nation: Speaking of balance, West Virginia is a little unique in how geographically isolated they are compared to many of their conference peers. Are you aware of anyone expressing concerns over this, in how it relates to travel or anything else?
Dr. Gee: I think that obviously, after having been in the Big Ten and the SEC, where we were pretty compact, although during my time in the Big Ten we did add Nebraska, and then later Maryland and Rutgers. I view WVU as being very fortunate to be in the Big 12 because we defend the eastern border, we're in the Eastern Time Zone, and we have a great following from around this part of the world. WVU has always had an enormous following.
I've never heard any real concern expressed. I think initially, there was probably some concerns expressed that we had abandoned some of our traditional rivals, like the University of Pittsburgh, but obviously, we're looking to reestablish some of those traditional relationships, as these things have straightened out. Would I like to have maybe another member of our conference in this part of the world? Probably so, but those are discussions that are going to take place, and certainly that is part of the consideration.
SB Nation: In those hypothetical conversations, the desire for a closer school is something you've mentioned to other university presidents?
Dr. Gee: Absolutely, and it has been mentioned to me.
SB Nation: Speaking of Big 12 expansion, University of Oklahoma president David Boren recently made headlines when he said that he felt the Big 12 was "psychologically disadvantaged" by only having 10 teams. Do you personally agree with those comments?
Dr. Gee: President Boren is one of the real leaders in higher education and certainly one of the leaders in our conference. I certainly don't feel [the conference] is psychologically disadvantaged. I do think that having the name Big 12 with 10 teams is, of course -- I was in the Big Ten when we had 11 teams -- and there is something to be said about that. I do think that the issue of conference expansion should be one that we talk about.
I will also say this, having been a part of larger conferences, that I do like the round-robin format that we have. Obviously, our conference is also very healthy, from both a playing point of view, and obviously from a financial one. There are things to be said.
Now, of course, as a former Ohio State president, I was just absolutely delighted to see Ohio State win a national championship last year, but if TCU or whoever hadn't lost, you know, there could have been two Big 12 teams in the playoff. So you know what happens one year doesn't necessarily mean that it's going to happen every year.
SB Nation: Speaking of Ohio State, have you spoken to Jim Tressel recently now that he's become a university president as well?
Dr. Gee: Jim and I do communicate, as a matter of fact. I haven't talked to him by phone, but we have talked via text, email and letter. I think he's probably finding that being a university president more challenging than being a football coach.