Let’s talk about Urban Meyer

Published 6:26 pm Sunday, August 26, 2018

Another football season, another football scandal.

Whatever could have, and should have, been done by Ohio State University and its head football coach Urban Meyer is almost irrelevant, if only because the punishment doesn’t quite fit the crime.

Meyer, who was thrown into an OSU internal investigation following the publication of a story from Stadium’s Brett McMurphy, will sit out three games this season – two non-conference contests against Oregon State and TCU, and a Big Ten Conference game against Rutgers.

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His crime? Well, it depends on who you ask.

Some claim Meyer is a man who made a mistake. It isn’t his fault, they said, that he wasn’t informed of domestic abuse allegations against former coaching assistant Zach Smith. Smith, we should note, was fired on Aug. 1, hours after McMurphy’s story was posted to his Facebook page. Meyer was also placed on paid administrative lead that day while OSU organized an internal investigation.

The investigation culminated on Aug. 22 where Meyer, OSU Athletic Director Gene Smith and OSU President Michael V. Drake spent 25 minutes spelling out that Meyer did nothing wrong. To go with the press conference, OSU released a copy of their report which, among other head-scratchers, indicates that any memory lapse from Meyer was likely due to medication that he is taking.

If you discount the fact that Meyer has publicly stated that he was aware of a 2009 domestic violence arrest against Smith, then you can maybe believe that he was unaware. If you discount that Meyer’s wife, Shelley, engaged in text conversations about the abuse with Smith’s ex-wife Courtney and never shared a single bit of that information with her husband, then maybe it works.

If you believe that Meyer never read a text from his wife on Aug. 1 that spoke of her fear that Smith might seek retribution against Courtney following his firing from OSU then sure, Meyer knew nothing and he did nothing wrong.

Apparently, neither did anyone else at Ohio State.

In an Aug. 24 report by SB Nation, Smith’s many problems while on OSU’s staff are highlighted, all sourced from public documents and OSU’s internal investigation report. The article outlines everything from poor job performance in 2012 and 2013, to a strip-club excursion with a fellow OSU coach and several high school coaches that racked up a “significant” bill and a 2016 trip to rehab for addiction to a drug used to treat ADHD.

Per OSU’s standards of conduct, the last two incidents were more than enough to fire Smith.

SB Nation goes on to conclude that Meyer has a blind spot for Smith. The former coach is, after all, the grandson of Meyer’s mentor Earle Bruce.

Perhaps he does have a blind spot, but even so, it doesn’t change the message that OSU has broadcast.

The message is that winning is more important than wellbeing, that an assistant coach in a big-time football program can do all manner of heinous things and it is overlooked. Even worse, that a head coach can be aware of ongoing problems, be caught in a series of lies about those problems and walk away with what amounts to a slap on the wrist.

After all, Meyer can return to practice on Sept. 3. He will receive a paycheck for every day of work that he misses. His only punishment is to sit at home for three Saturdays in September, two of which won’t drastically impact OSU’s chances of playing in the 2019 College Football Playoff. Yes, Meyer has to miss the Big Ten opener, but OSU would have to play the fourth-string and let a chicken serve as head coach to lose that one.

All in all, OSU will be just fine. There will be no NCAA investigation, no sanctions, no long term damage. But have they learned a lesson? We’re skeptical, especially when you consider the trio didn’t even apologize to Courtney Smith during last week’s press conference, though they repeatedly apologized to the Buckeye Nation for finding themselves in a “difficult situation.”

Athletics has become about money, about winning at all costs. Any ideal about the betterment or the protection of athletes is, truly, a farce when you consider that coaches can cover up rape, or know that someone on staff has sexually molested over a hundred people, and nothing comes of it for decades, if at all. But a coach can buy a kid a candy bar or let him sleep on his couch for a night, and it’s an NCAA violation that requires years of investigation.

The system is screwed up, and Ohio State lost a chance to make a stand and begin the conversation for change. Maybe the next school won’t back down.