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TCU billboards flash through Columbus

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If winning a Rose Bowl wasn’t enough to make Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee eat his words, perhaps a billboard will be.

On Thursday afternoon, 20 billboards around the Columbus area began displaying a message congratulating TCU on its 21-19 Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin. The ad takes a direct shot at Gee, who hurled insults at TCU and other non-BCS conference schools in late November.

“I do know, having been both a Southeastern Conference president and a Big Ten president, that it’s like a murderer’s row every week for these schools. We do not play the Little Sisters of the Poor,” Gee told The Associated Press on Nov. 24. Gee was also chancellor at Vanderbilt from 2000–07.

That infamous line capped off the billboard, which read, “Congratulations to TCU for their Rose Bowl victory — Little Sisters of the Poor.” The ad runs on the digital billboards once per minute, for eight seconds.

After receiving public backlash, Gee acknowledged that his comments were out of line.

“What do I know about college football? I look like Orville Redenbacher,” Gee told The Columbus Dispatch on Dec. 1. “I have no business talking about college football.”

Gee was not immediately available for comment.

Robert Rankin, president and general manager of Clear Channel Outdoor Columbus, which operates the digital display, would not disclose the price of the billboard ad or reveal who purchased the ad space.

“It’s certainly TCU interests, and they are outside of the state,” Rankin said. “I haven’t sensed that there’s anything going on here except for gamesmanship. There’s no malice.”

TCU officials denied any university affiliation with the billboards.

“TCU did not create the billboards surrounding Ohio State, nor did it have a role in placing them there,” said Lisa Albert, TCU spokeswoman. “The university does not have any information about who did create these billboards.”

Rankin did not say when the billboard would be removed.

“It’s a short-term proposition,” he said. “We’re not sure yet how short-term.”

Rankin did say the process in which the message was proposed, and then accepted, was fairly quick. This can be typical of digital ads, he said.

“This all came down in short order, certainly less than 72 hours,” he said. “That’s one of the beauties of what is still a relatively new medium, in central Ohio anyway.”

TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte responded to Gee’s comments in November, by challenging the Buckeyes on Dallas radio station KESN-FM.

“Anytime, anyplace, anywhere,” Del Conte said. “Buckeyes against the Horned Frogs. Tee it up. Let’s go.”

TCU will join the Big East Conference, effective July 1, 2012. The Big East is one of six conferences that have an automatic qualifier for a BCS bowl.

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