Ohio State prioritized football over integrity in rendering its verdict on Urban Meyer
Now we know what enabling domestic abuse will cost you at Ohio State: almost the entire nonconference schedule — one-quarter of the regular season.
After a public airing of its failings Wednesday night, Ohio State football still remains upright, powerful, perhaps even defiant.
And isn’t that really the point?
Urban Meyer was suspended for the first three games of the 2018 season after Ohio State investigators determined the extent of his role in whatever we’re calling the Zach Smith fiasco.
University officials called it many things Wednesday night except what it really looks like from up close — a borderline cover-up.
Let’s cut through the B.S.: Meyer and Ohio State are sorry … they got caught.
If not for the fine reporting of Brett McMurphy, Zach Smith might still be in the Ohio State football facility where he was also reportedly ordering adult toys and having sexual relations with a staffer.
Meanwhile, the university’s lack of oversight put a wife and her children in danger.
So all of that is worth … three games?
In an overwrought 12-hour meeting led by the Ohio State Board of Trustees, officials were clearly focused on tying a palatable bow on the investigation rather than deliberating the merits of potential termination.
Ohio State put a rather crass football value on domestic violence despite a stunning level of detail unearthed by the investigation regarding Zach Smith’s actions over an extended period of time and Meyer’s knowledgeable inaction. The athletic administration basically enabled a really bad guy (Zach Smith) for a long period, likely causing extensive harm to Courtney Smith by doing so.
It was proposed Wednesday that Meyer didn’t “deliberately lie” at Big Ten Media Days last month. Athletic director Gene Smith didn’t do, well, anything when alerted to Zach Smith’s reported arrest for abusing his wife in 2015.
In 2012, Meyer didn’t reveal Zach Smith’s 2009 arrest at Florida when he was hired at Ohio State. Nor was Zach Smith vetted by Gene Smith.
Ohio State officials are attempting to put this scandal in the past. The state’s highest-paid employee (Meyer) will be $430,000 lighter in the wallet. He won’t be paid for missing those first three games against Oregon State, Rutgers and TCU, nor for the entirety of his suspension, which was originally labeled “paid administrative leave.” He will, however, be able to lead practice in Week 2 and 3.
Gene Smith has been suspended, too, for not acting on Zach Smith allegations from 2015.
Meanwhile, let’s make these points:
Meyer remains the coach, but he and — by extension — the football program are teetering on the brink. After this massive failing, Ohio State better hope Meyer doesn’t get so much as a jaywalking ticket. His chalice of trust is empty. By retaining their coach, Ohio State officials have doubled down on a .912 winning percentage.
That is Meyer’s victory ratio at Ohio State that also includes a national championship. They are gambling there are no scandals, no NCAA violations, nothing in his past — or in his future. If there is, not only will be Meyer be fired but likely Gene Smith and president Michael Drake along with him.
This is the chance they’ve taken. This might be the only choice they had. For the moment, a suspension seemed like some sort of safe middle ground. A firing would likely have cost the university a battle over the $38 million it owed the coach should it have released him without cause.
By retaining Meyer, those same officials are taking a risk that McMurphy — or some other media outlet — has not already dug up some other misdeed.
Furthermore, Wednesday’s press conference was a study in semantics. Meyer may have lied last month at Big Ten Media Days, but he didn’t “deliberately lie,” according to investigative chairwoman Mary Jo White.
So what was that cone drill that Meyer ran in Chicago, an unintentional lie? On nine occasions, according to reports, he was asked about his knowledge of Zach Smith allegedly assaulting his wife in 2015. Nine times he denied knowledge.
That is until 10 days later when — in a tweet not sanctioned by university — Meyer said in fact he did know about his receivers’ coach misconduct. Meyer instead claimed he was not “adequately prepared” to answer questions.
The investigation concluded, “We cannot logically square Coach Meyer’s responses on Big
Ten Media Days broadly denying knowledge of the 2015 events …”
The public is being asked to swallow a lot in this fiasco. That includes Meyer’s stunning revelation that he was not aware of his wife Shelley’s texts with Courtney Smith.
This story was so troubling in the first place because Courtney Smith reportedly texted Shelley Meyer: “You should tell Urban [of Zach Smith’s abuse]. We can’t have someone like this coaching young men.”
There are further questions to ask. Courtney Smith suggested that the wife of every coach on the team knew of the abuse. If so, what did those coaches know, and when did they know it?
On the night Zach Smith was fired, Shelley Meyer texted her husband, “I am worried about Zach’s response. He drinks a lot and I am just not sure how stable he will be. Afraid he will do something dangerous.” Urban Meyer did not respond, according to the university’s report.
The investigative report further revealed that Meyer discussed with a staffer how to delete text messages older than a year to keep them from media inquiries. When it reviewed Meyer’s phone, text messages older than a year were not found, yet investigators did not feel comfortable tying the conversation it knew took place to the evidence it received from Meyer.
In part of a lengthy statement about Zach Smith, the investigative report noted he had a history of “promiscuous and embarrassing sexual behavior, drug abuse truancy, dishonesty, financial irresponsibility … and a lengthy police investigation.”
That’s quite a list of character flaws to overlook over a period of years. Urban Meyer said he wrongly gave Zach Smith “the benefit of the doubt.” Where was Courtney Smith’s benefit of the doubt?
There was barely a mention Wednesday night of domestic abuse, its damage or how Ohio State is going to deal with it going forward.
This fact remains: We witnessed a general failing at a university and athletic department that is used to prioritizing football. The last Buckeyes’ football coach who left on his own was arguably Carroll Widdoes in 1945.
Since then, every single football coach has been fired, resigned under pressure or cited pressures of the job for moving on.
To its credit, Ohio State did fire Woody Hayes and Jim Tressel when they acted out. The one constant was that Ohio State football barely wavered.
Whether Meyer made it through Wednesday, there is little doubt the Buckeyes wouldn’t have buckled.
In its worst times, Ohio State has constantly proven that its football is bigger than any coach.
“I wish I had done more,” the current coach said.
Meyer — and the university that employs him — should have.