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Published: Thursday, 8/30/2007

Ex-president: Tackling Buckeyes' game-day rioting jeopardized job

ASSOCIATED PRESS

COLUMBUS - Former Ohio State President Karen Holbrook said the outcry she faces after lambasting Buckeyes' game-day behavior during a Florida job interview is nothing new - her job at Ohio State was jeopardized when she took on the issue the first time.

Holbrook told officials at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers earlier this month that she confronted a "culture of rioting" when she arrived at Ohio State in 2002, and witnessed people doing "disgusting things, unbelievable things" on a videotape she ordered made after the Michigan-Ohio State football game that year.

"They think it's fun to flip cars, to really have absolute drunken orgies. ... I don't want to be at a place that has this kind of culture as a norm," she said in the exchange, first reported in The News-Press of Fort Myers and later in The Columbus Dispatch.

"When you win a game, you riot. When you lose a game, you riot. When spring comes, you riot. African-American Heritage Festival weekend, you riot," Holbrook said in the interview.

Her comments have sparked a Buckeyes-boosting backlash not unlike the one she faced for cracking down on fans and campus visitors soon after she arrived in Columbus in 2002.

"When I came, a number of people told me what the situation was and that nobody had tried to stop it," Holbrook said in a phone interview from her Florida home. "It was not an easy decision to take it on. I took a high risk and it jeopardized my presidency."

Holbrook said the negative comments about rioting and orgies represented five minutes amid 10 hours of testimony before officials of the Florida university, much of which focused on Ohio State's positives.

"People have ignored every other wonderful thing about a great institution that I bragged about, and that is what concerns me," Holbrook said.

Holbrook ultimately withdrew her name from consideration for the Florida job. She had applied this month after her June retirement - and $250,000 exit bonus - from Ohio State. She owns a home near Sarasota, Fla.

She told Gulf Coast University officials she used Ohio State University staff to videotape off-campus activity on the day of the Michigan-Ohio State game in 2002 after being told she would find it appalling. She said she never witnessed any of the behavior firsthand.

In the interview, Holbrook said the riots of 2002 were a low point for Ohio State's national reputation - and she believed it was important to tackle the issue.

"There's nothing better than those traditions, nothing better than all the excitement of game day," she said. "But this wasn't a proud moment for Ohio State."

Holbrook oversaw a strict crackdown on tailgating and game-day behavior after cars were overturned, couches burned, and dozens were arrested - all of which made national news.

Former Ohio State trustee Dan Slane said her depiction was somewhat exaggerated.

He said rowdy fans also aren't unique to Ohio State: "Look at what happens in Europe. They literally kill people at soccer matches."

Columbus resident Greg Knoth, 37, who attended Ohio State for two years, suggested Holbrook's expectations were flawed.

"I think people got the impression that she wanted it (a football game) to be like a social event, like a polo match, where people walked with shirts tied around their necks," he said.

Holbrook said she was barraged with complaining e-mails after she led a crackdown of tailgating activity at Buckeyes games.

"They said, 'You're a goodie two-shoes. You don't understand what it is to be a Buckeye,'" she said. "Maybe that's true, but I didn't think this great university deserved the black eye to its reputation for this kind of behavior."

Holbrook's successor said fans should be allowed to have a good time but not be allowed to get out of hand.

"I think that anytime there's misbehavior, we have to address it," new and former Ohio State President Gordon Gee said. "This is about fun, this is about family, this is about spirit, and this is about common sense."

Read more in later editions of The Blade and toledoblade.com



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