Gene Smith is in his 13th year as director of athletics at The Ohio State University. He is widely recognized among the leaders of his profession and has been named “one of the most powerful people in collegiate sport.” Smith was named the Buckeyes’ director of athletics March 5, 2005 and was elevated to senior vice president and Wolfe Foundation endowed athletics director in May of 2016.
Smith is the eighth person to hold the athletics director position at Ohio State. He previously served as director of athletics at Arizona State, Iowa State and Eastern Michigan universities and is entering his 32nd year in the role.
At Ohio State, the 61-year old Smith oversees the nation’s most comprehensive and one of its most successful collegiate athletic programs. The department sponsors 36 fully-funded varsity sports with more than 1.000 student-athletes competing for Big Ten Conference and NCAA championships.
Smith has additional oversight responsibility for the Business Advancement division of Ohio State which includes: Schottenstein Center, Nationwide Arena, Blackwell Hotel, Drake Union, Fawcett Center, and Trademark & Licensing.
As a highly-recruited student-athlete and member of national championship teams as a college athlete and coach, Smith is passionate about the well-being of student-athletes and the championship experience. “We want to create an environment for our student-athletes to be successful academically, athletically and socially,” he said. “Intercollegiate athletics offers an unparalleled opportunity for young women and men to prepare for success in life.”
Under Smith’s leadership, the Ohio State athletics department has thrived, winning myriad conference and national, individual and team, athletic championships and awards. In 2015, Forbes recognized the Ohio State Athletics Department as one of the ten best organizations to work for in sports. Smith is credited with creating a collaborative culture within the department, as Forbes cited it for having “developed an incredible reputation in the industry for the positive way they treat their employees.”
Concurrent to athletic excellence has been the remarkable academic achievement by student-athletes during Smith’s tenure. When Smith arrived at Ohio State, the overall student-athlete federal graduation rate was 65 percent. It is now 75 percent, with over 50 percent of student-athletes maintaining a 3.0 grade point average or better. Ohio State football student-athletes graduated at a 49 percent rate the year Smith began his career in Columbus (2005-06). Last year (2015-16) the football student-athletes FED graduation rate improved to 64 percent.
In terms of the NCAA Graduation Success Rate improvement, all Ohio State student-athletes had a GSR of 80 percent in 2005-2006. That has increased to 89 percent for 2015-16. Over that same time frame, the GSR for football improved from 55 to 81 percent.
Smith’s focus on academics — higher individual and team goals, additional academic support services, and recognition of excellence — has shifted the department’s culture to reflect his philosophical focus on the total student-athlete.
Smith is known for outstanding fiscal controls. The athletics department is completely self-supporting; it receives no university funds, tax dollars or student fees. In fiscal year 2015-16, the department transferred nearly $39 million in assessments to the university, including more than $19 million in grant-in-aid reimbursement. Both athletics and the university will derive benefit from the unprecedented $252 million partnership agreement signed with NIKE in 2016.
Smith has earned a reputation as an outstanding fund raiser, and led the team that has raised millions of dollars for new and improved practice and competitive facilities. Smith has overseen major renovations to facilities for baseball, football, field hockey, golf, softball, outdoor tennis and indoor track; upgrading of women’s and men’s basketball; creation of new indoor golf and rowing facilities, and field replacement and track resurfacing at Jessie Owens Stadium.
Looking to the future, Smith developed a vision for the Athletics District as a part of the University Framework plan. The District includes: Covelli Arena, a 3,000 seat facility for men’s and women’s volleyball, wrestling, men’s and women’s gymnastics, camps and intimate concerts; Schumaker Student-Athlete Development Complex which includes strength and conditioning, nutrition and dining, and athletic training centers; and Jennings wrestling practice facility, all of which are in design phase.
Up next will be a 5,000 seat hockey venue; indoor track facility, and multiple practice fields. Smith’s ambitious vision for the Athletic District will ensure first class facilities for Ohio State student-athletes for years to come.
Smith’s national honors place him among the leaders of his profession. He was selected by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics in February, 2016 as the 50th James J. Corbett Memorial Award recipient, the highest honor one can achieve in collegiate athletics administration. He was the first sitting A.D. to receive this prestigious honor. He was also recently named by Forbes among the most influential minorities in American sports — collegiate and professional.
Most recently, Smith was selected to serve on the College Football Playoff Selection Committee in January of 2017. He will serve a three-year term. In April of 2017, he joined the Board of Directors for The Columbus Club, a prominent club for leaders of business and industry.
Formed in October of 2017, Smith began work with the Commission on College Basketball, a task force formed by Mark Emmert, president of the NCAA, and chaired by Dr. Condoleezza Rice, former provost at Stanford, U.S. National Security Advisor and Secretary of State, to examine Division I men’s basketball. The group will primarily examine the relationships between the NCAA, its member institutions, coaches and student athletes with apparel companies, non-scholastic basketball organizations and agents or advisors.
Smith is a past winner of the National Association for Athletics Compliance Award, the Carl Maddox Sports Management Award, and the Sport Business Journal Athletic Director of the Year Award. In June 2008 he was named to NACDA’s inaugural “Legends Class” and was also named Athletic Director of the Year by the Black Coaches Association.
Smith has an exemplary record of national leadership and service and is a sought after speaker on national athletic issues. Currently, Smith serves on the newly constituted NCAA Men’s Basketball Oversight Committee (2015-18). In June of 2015 Smith was added to the Concussion Assessment, Research and Education Consortium as a member of the CARE Consortium Scientific Advisory Board. The board will help provide input into the understanding of concussion-related issues.
From May 2011 – July 2014, Smith served as a member of the NCAA Division I Administrative Cabinet. He completed his fifth year on the prestigious NCAA Men’s Basketball Committee in 2011, having served as chair for the 2010-11 academic year. In 2007, Smith served as president of the Division 1-A Athletic Directors Association. He also served on the Basketball Academic Enhancement Group.
Smith is past president of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics. He also has served on the NCAA Management Council, NCAA Committee on Infractions, NCAA Executive Committee, NCAA Football Rules Committee, President’s Commission Liaison Committee, NCAA Baseball Academic Enhancement Task Force and National Football Foundation Honors Court, among others.
Smith grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and attended the University of Notre Dame on a football scholarship. He played four years of football as a defensive end for the Irish and was a member of the 1973 Associated Press national championship team.
Smith received his bachelor’s degree in business administration from Notre Dame in 1977. Following graduation, he joined the Notre Dame coaching staff under Dan Devine and remained in that capacity until 1981. The 1977 Notre Dame team captured the undisputed national championship. Smith has the unique distinction of winning national championships in football as a student-athlete, coach, and athletics director.
Smith is active in the Columbus community. He is a member of the Columbus Sports Commission and the governing board of trustees of the Lincoln Theater Association. In June of 2016, he was named a trustee of the Board of the Columbus Museum of Art. In addition, Smith and his wife, Sheila, support numerous community charities. On campus, Smith is active with the Bell Center for African-American males, where for 10 years he has sponsored a mentoring program.
Gene and Sheila have four children: Matt, Nicole, Lindsey and Summer, and seven grandchildren: Marshall, Steele, Addison, Grayson, Tyson, Elijah and Maya.