In Their Words is a weekly feature appearing Sundays in The Blade sports section. Blade sports writer Matt Markey talked with Tom Hof, a Bowling Green native and BGSU graduate who is the senior associate athletics director for external relations at Ohio State University. Hof, who has been at Ohio State since 1991, oversees business development and sales, marketing and promotions, ticketing and premium seating, as well as merchandising, branding and athletic communications.
Tom Hof grew up a diehard sports fan whose dream job was to be Ernie Harwell's partner on the radio broadcasts of Detroit Tigers baseball games. Hof's father, Jim, was a longtime administrator at Bowling Green State University, and Hof developed an insatiable appetite for Falcon sports. His favorite football player - Mike Weger; basketball - Rich Walker; hockey - Gord McCosh.
While attending BGSU, he did broadcasts of local high school games for WKIQ.
Hof earned his bachelor's and master's degrees from Bowling Green, and in 1981 was hired by former BGSU athletic director Jim Lessig to be ticket manager at Kansas. His office at KU was in storied Allen Field House, and on Hof's first day there he saw legendary miler Jim Ryan running on the indoor track.
The noon pick-up basketball games at Kansas included a couple former KU greats - Boston Celtics star Jo Jo White and Lynette Woodard, the first woman to play for the Harlem Globetrotters.
After Kansas, Hof worked at Illinois State and the University of Cincinnati before being hired by Ohio State, where athletic director Andy Geiger made Hof a member of his staff.
Hof was named to his current post by OSU athletic director Gene Smith in 2004.
In his youth, Hof would ride his bike to the BGSU campus almost every day, in hopes that he would find the doors to one of the gymnasiums open and the lights on so he could shoot hoops. Today, when Hof arrives at Value City Arena on the OSU campus, the lights are always on when he gets there.
"THE PASSION FOR Ohio State sports, particularly football, is unmatched across the country and around the world. My first football game was an overwhelming experience. From the smell of the grills at 8 a.m., to the scarlet clad throng engulfing the entire campus, to the sounds of the Best Damn Band in the Land, first at the Skull Session, and then the goose bump-producing ramp entrance and dotting of the 'i,' to the prolonged 'O-O-O-O' at kickoff, the pageantry of Ohio State football stays with you. It never gets old and it is an addiction that you don't want to shake.
"I'VE BEEN EXTREMELY fortunate to be a part of what I call a 'golden age' of Ohio State sports. Winning the Rose Bowl in 1997 was an incredible experience. The game versus Miami in the Fiesta Bowl for the national championship will live forever in all Buckeye fans. The Scoonie Penn and Michael Redd-led Final Four run and then the most recent Final Four appearance guided by Thad Matta, Greg Oden and Michael Conley were amazing, and being a part of it from the inside is indescribable.
"ONE OF THE MOST memorable experiences for me was the Buckeye hockey team's appearance in the Frozen Four in Boston. Growing up a college hockey fan in Bowling Green and being a BG classmate of OSU head coach John Markell made that experience something very, very special.
"Another experience that never grows old is traveling to away football games with the team. We leave our hotel in four buses with a police escort and invade the enemy territory. The motorcade is impressive, and the excitement builds as you get closer to the opposing stadium. The traveling horde of Buckeye fans salutes the team as the buses pass, and the 'OH-IO' chants envelope the team with energy and support. The opposing fans produce a different salute, some with a thumbs down and some with a particular digit raised. Once the team arrives at the away stadium and disembarks the buses, no matter the locale, the same group of fans greets the team with rousing cheers and welcoming smiles. It truly is an inspiring and humbling experience.
"THE COLLECTIVE SUCCESS of so many of our programs makes Ohio State a very special place to work. We've won conference and national championships in virtually every sport, and the success of the higher-profile teams (football, men's basketball, women's basketball, baseball) over the past decade is unmatched in our history.
"I THINK MY PROUDEST professional moments come from being part of an incredibly devoted team of administrators and coaches who work long hours and spill their blood, sweat, tears to give our 900 student-athletes a remarkable experience. We don't classify our sports as major or minor, or revenue vs. non-revenue. We believe that the fencer should have the same experience as the football player, the gymnastics athlete should benefit from the same level of coaching and facilities as the basketball player does. Our role is to provide the best possible experience for our students, so that when they leave us and enter the working world, they will be the most productive citizens that they can be. We have an obligation to our young people, and to the parents who entrusted them to us.
"I ALWAYS WANT to give credit to some wonderful people, without whom I never could have fulfilled my dream of being a part of this industry. First, my dad, who is an amazing man who devoted his life to higher education and taught me a strong work ethic and how to treat all people with respect and dignity. Also Jim Lessig, a classy professional who believed in me and gave me my start, and Andy Geiger who hired me at Ohio State and inspired me daily with his devotion to the student-athlete and his incredible vision for what could be accomplished with hard work and innovation, and of course Gene Smith, a man at the top of his craft, who not only retained me when he could have brought in his own staff but promoted me and has given me tremendous responsibilities at the finest athletics program in the country. I am indebted to all of them for nurturing me and allowing me to be a part of something very special.
"AT OHIO STATE we are truly blessed that our fans and sponsors believe in what we are trying to do, and through their investments in us, buying tickets and merchandise, making charitable contributions, being corporate sponsors, etc., we are able to be one of the small number of major athletics programs that finishes in the black each year and contributes back millions to the institution. The Ohio State department of athletics is large in size and scope and must operate as a business to be the most effective, but we never lose sight that we are an education institution charged with developing young people to their fullest capabilities."