Although he ultimately decided to stay at Ohio State, Gene Smith explored the possibility of becoming the Pac-12’s new commissioner when the conference began its search for Larry Scott’s replacement earlier this year.
In an interview with Eleven Warriors on Thursday that will air on next week’s Real Pod Wednesdays, Smith confirmed he was called by the Pac-12 about its opening for a new commissioner, and he explored the possibility of taking the new job.
Ultimately, however, Smith decided he wants to remain Ohio State’s athletic director for the rest of his career, leading to the contract extension that was approved by the Board of Trustees this week.
“I had an interest. I studied it a little bit,” Smith said regarding the Pac-12 commissioner job. “I’m blessed. I’ve been at this a long time, I’m 65 and so far, knock on wood, I’m still healthy. And I have a lot of work in me. And one of my goals is to be able to continue to try and help our industry move in a positive direction. And so my interest was to evaluate, is that better from this seat or was that better from a commissioner’s seat? Because a commissioner has a different level of influence.
“And I decided after studying it and talking to some of my colleagues, obviously some in the Pac-12 – I do have a few there, so I got information, studied it – but at the end of the day, this is home. I’m from Ohio, and I would miss the connection with my athletes. I learn so much from them.”
As the landscape of college athletics continues to evolve, with the recent expansion of the one-time transfer exception and with name, image and likeness legislation on the horizon, Smith determined he could make a bigger impact on college sports by continuing to work directly with athletes as he does at Ohio State rather than by becoming a commissioner.
“Around NIL, me having conversations with them about that or during the pandemic, I think a lot of people were disconnected because they didn’t get feedback from the athletes, and I can’t imagine being a leader without their feedback,” said Smith, who also co-chaired the NCAA working group that created the name, image and likeness legislation he expects to be passed next month. “Particularly today. The whole ecosystem of student-athletes with transfers and NIL, everything’s gonna change.
“So I studied it (the Pac-12 job). They did call me. And (Ohio State president Kristina Johnson) and I were having conversations at the same time. But I decided I had no interest, and that’s how the contract emerged. I just decided, ‘This is where I want to finish.’ So hopefully I get an opportunity to do that.”
While the Pac-12 ultimately hired George Kliavkoff as its new commissioner, Smith is now under contract with Ohio State for the next five years through June 30, 2026, when he will be 70 years old.
Smith says he hasn’t made any decision, though, about when he’ll actually retire. Instead, Smith plans to take it one year at a time – but there’s still a lot more he wants to accomplish at Ohio State before he leaves.
“I just try and go year to year,” Smith said. “I just try and do my job. And as long as I’m healthy and as long as my president wants me, I’m gonna continue to just work as hard as I can. I have a vision for our athletic program that I’m still trying to achieve.
“Years ago, I had a vision to have the high academic performance that we’re currently achieving, and this year, I was shocked at our metrics from this year with COVID. We had 779 student-athletes with a 3.0 (GPA) or better, and all 36 of our teams averaged north of a 3.0. Our APR, single- and multi-year, were records. And that was a vision that was created years ago, and we’re there almost. I have a vision toward some other things, and I want to work toward those.”