At the NCAA’s annual convention and governance dialogue two weeks ago in San Diego, Gene Smith was impressed with one of the speakers representing the NCAA’s Division I board of directors.
Afterward, the Ohio State director of athletics made sure to introduce himself to the speaker, University of California Irvine chancellor Michael Drake.
Two weeks later, Drake has been hired as Smith’s boss.
Drake was approved as the 15th president of The Ohio State University by its board of trustees on Thursday afternoon, taking over one of the true powerhouse universities in the nation – when it comes to academics, medical research and, yes, athletics.
And while Smith has not yet had a chance to sit down with Drake to discuss athletics, the Ohio State AD is excited to work with him going forward once the new president takes over in the summer.
“What an impressive background,” Smith, who was named an OSU vice president Tuesday, told BuckeyeSports.com. “I’m just excited to get him here, be able to support him. He obviously has an appreciation for athletics, which is an important criteria for us. I’m just excited like everybody else.”
One thing is for sure – Drake already has some things down when it comes to athletics. When a reporter asked him if he knew about Ohio State’s biggest rival – and football coach Urban Meyer’s distaste of saying the word “Michigan” – Drake started joking that he was unable to get his mouth to say the necessary syllables.
“I can’t – I think I do, but I can’t make myself say it,” he said. “I will try, but I can’t make myself say it. Can I write that to you?”
LINK: Michael V. Drake’s bio
Of course, it will take a lot more for Drake – who has been at UC Irvine, a Division I school but one that does not sponsor football, since 2005 – to truly fit into the Ohio State athletics culture. He goes from a school that eliminated five sports in 2009 to make its budget to one with a broad-based program of 36 sports, not to mention an athletics budget that will be almost 10 times what he’s used to.
Drake seems to have an appreciation for athletics, though. His Twitter feed at UCI included multiple recent mentions of Anteater sports, and he is one of 18 members of the aforementioned NCAA board of directors. Irvine has won four of the last seven NCAA men’s volleyball championships – OSU has one of the other three – and Anteater sports are often among the best among D-I schools that don’t sponsor football, but moving to Ohio State will represent a significant change.
“The biggest challenge is things are on a greater scale,” Drake said. “We’re a Division I athletics and academic institution, we’ve won national championships, but nothing compares to Ohio State. The level of intensity and heft and importance and weight of this university are as great as any that exist.”
Enter Smith, who recently signed a contract extension that will keep him in charge of Ohio State athletics through 2020. He looks forward to sitting down with Drake when the new president has a chance to show him what Ohio State athletics is all about.
“The challenge here is we’re such a big battleship that I think it will take him some time to get to the point where he can spend quality time with athletics,” Smith said. “The academic mission, the medical center issues, he’s probably going to devote a super majority of his time there, and obviously our student population is going to demand a great deal of his time.
“I’ll prepare a summary of who we are, what our goals are, that type of thing, so somewhere down the line he can read it on the plane or something like that. He’ll eventually get to us and when that time happens, I’m anxious to show him what we’re all about and have him meet our coaches and tour our facilities and all that stuff.”
Smith is also excited that Drake is already a major part of the discussion under way at the NCAA level to reform its governance structure. Ohio State and the Big Ten figure to be major parts of the restructuring effort, through which Smith first became familiar with his new president.
“I was impressed by his comments on the panel, so when we took a break, I said hellow and introduced myself. We exchanged pleasantries, so when I saw his name last night, it was like, ‘Wow, that’s cool,’ ” Smith said. “I just liked the way he handled himself and his demeanor and his style. He’s just an inviting personality.”
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