Ohio State Interim President Joseph Alutto isn’t a football guy, but he can appreciate what the game represents, as well as coach Urban Meyer’s disciplinary efforts. Alutto, though, does somewhat think the sport has too much emphasis placed upon it, despite its global reach.
In 1991, Alutto, then the dean of the Fisher College of Business, was in Seoul, South Korea, when he was asked by a group of OSU alumni about then-football coach John Cooper’s standing with the university. At the time, it was in question of whether or not Cooper would be given a contract extension.
“We arrive at the banquet, they do a first round of toasts and (the former minister of finance) says, ‘Dean Alutto, we have the first question for you. Would you tell us what (then) President (E. Gordon) Gee is going to do about Mr. Cooper’s contract?’” Alutto said in an interview with The Lantern Monday. “I mumbled an answer because I didn’t know anything. Fortunately I had read The Lantern and I knew that Cooper was the coach. Another round of toasts went on as the evening went on and I said ‘Now, I have a question. Why in the world are you asking me about the football coach?’”
The answer to the inquiry gave Alutto an idea of the community that comes along with being a member of the Buckeye devout.
“They said, ‘None of us had been back to campus in 20 years. What we remember and know about Ohio State is the friends we made when we were there, the fellow students who we met with. A community who accepted us when our language and our culture was so different but who nevertheless supported us. The faculty who had taught us and who we had tried to keep in contact with over the years. But the way we keep in touch with the Ohio State University is through the sports section of The International Herald Tribune,” Alutto said. “It gave you a sense of the connection between athletics that we almost all take for granted and the way people just keep a connection with Ohio State because of the passion that they have about Ohio State.”
That kind of connection with the university is one Alutto thinks is imperative for the next OSU president to have.
“What we look for as a president, we look for somebody who appreciates that, who embraces that, who understands that that’s one of the big advantages of being at Ohio State,” he said. “It’s not just that we’re big, but that there is this passion for us among our alums, with almost anyone who connects with us that recognizes that this a very special university.”
Alutto assumed the role of interim president July 1, the same day of Gee’s retirement.
The announcement of Gee’s retirement June 4 came days after controversial remarks Gee made at a Dec. 5 OSU Athletic Conference became public. Comments about Notre Dame and the SEC in particular, among other remarks, brought national attention.
Alutto, of course, thinks a strong commitment to OSU is also important for the coach of the football team to possess. Urban Meyer is someone Alutto said he respects, especially in the wake of a tumultuous offseason.
Three players — senior running back Carlos Hyde, redshirt-junior running back Rod Smith and redshirt-junior cornerback Bradley Roby — sat out at least one game this season so far, all for separate reasons. Hyde was suspended by Meyer for his involvement in an incident at a Columbus bar in July, Smith for something that happened in “January or February” according to his coach and Roby for being a part of an incident at a Bloomington, Ind., bar in July.
Alutto’s regard for Meyer stems from the immediate way the coach handed out the suspensions, making sure those responsible were held accountable.
“One of the things I like about Urban Meyer, for example, is he in fact is focusing on that issue of leadership with his football players,” Alutto said. “It’s a difficult thing. He’s passionate about making sure players understand the consequences of their actions.”
Alutto is no stranger to the criticism OSU fans have toward some players’ punishments.
“You can make the argument, which, by the way I’ve heard from alums who feel very differently about it then I do, ‘Well, it wasn’t such a big deal. Why were they out a game?’” Alutto said. “The answer is, how do you make it clear being in the wrong place at the wrong time at a result of your own voluntary behavior is a problem? Because half of what happens to us as human beings is simply deciding to be at a particular point in time at a particular place. And to simply say, ‘Well, jeez, you know, I didn’t think something was going to happen.’ OK, but you don’t learn a whole lot by thinking that way.”
That being said, Alutto said he still thinks there is sometimes too much value placed upon Buckeye athletics.
“In one sense, I would tell you I think there’s too much emphasis,” he said. “On the other hand … it’s part of the distinctiveness (of OSU).”
He added the university has a ways to go in terms of striking a balance.
“The university has to do a much better job of making sure the focus isn’t only on athletics, even though that is the area that gets the most attention,” Alutto said.
The interim president said he thinks his permanent successor might be the one who learns how to walk that tightrope with confidence.
“You want a president who embraces that, who knows to build on that and is committed. Because to do that … (athletics) have to be first rate programs because that’s part of the pride that people have in them. There has to be a willingness to communicate who we are, what our strategy is, what our plans are for the future,” he said. “It’s individuals who think about the worldwide role we play. Ohio is very, very important to us. It’s part of our history, our tradition and who we are today. But as we solve the problems of the world, believe it or not we solve Ohio’s problems as well … And ultimately when somebody has enough integrity that your supporters don’t worry about inconsistencies in what Ohio State is doing, so the value system has to be the same, I think that’s what you look for.”