Yes, Buckeye Nation, the football season will begin as scheduled Sept. 1, albeit without Urban Meyer on the sidelines for the first three games.
That was the punishment doled out by the Ohio State University board of trustees for Meyer’s fumbling of the domestic violence allegations and other indiscretions of Zach Smith, a former assistant Buckeye coach. The decision about Meyer’s coaching future came Wednesday by the board after 10 hours of closed-door discussion following a two-week investigation.
While the anxiety of many Buckeye fans, who feared Meyer’s penalty would be termination, may lessen now, the troubling events of the past month should still serve as a wake-up call for OSU and other large college football programs.
Meyer is lucky to have kept his job.
Certainly, there were significant errors in judgment made by Meyer, athletic director Gene Smith, and others. Numerous red flags appeared well before Meyer got around to firing Zach Smith on July 23.
Smith was never formally charged with domestic violence, but the reported incidents involving him and his now ex-wife, Courtney, started in 2009 and continued into July, when Courtney obtained a protection order.
There may have been no “right” punishment for Meyer, who admitted Wednesday his loyalty to former Buckeye coach Earle Bruce, who was Zach Smith’s grandfather, clouded his judgment regarding keeping Smith on the coaching staff longer than he should have. Smith’s questionable behavior, after all, had extended beyond domestic violence claims.
We wish Meyer’s comments after the suspension was announced would have shown some semblance of remorse, and included an apology to the alleged victim.
Clearly, Meyer brought the suspension on himself.
Had it not been for his misleading, at best, statements at a Big Ten Conference media event July 24 about the reasons behind Smith’s firing, the entire matter may have remained under the radar. That became impossible Aug. 1, however, once Courtney Smith revealed in a published interview that her claims of abuse in 2015 were “common knowledge” at OSU. Meyer has since admitted he had been told of the 2015 claims, something he denied knowledge of on July 24.
Meyer’s missteps, which the board of trustees didn’t find serious enough to warrant a longer suspension or termination, are cause for pause and, hopefully, change.
OSU must find a better way to monitor the off-the-field actions of its players and coaches while timely reporting the trouble they get into, especially those as serious as the domestic violence claims that surfaced in Smith’s case. One-time Buckeye quarterback turned sports analyst Kirk Herbstreit has suggested OSU may need to hire a full-time employee, perhaps FBI-trained, to keep track of the football team. That would make sense.
Football coaches, especially at the level Meyer serves, are expected to be all-knowing and to set high standards for the players to follow. Meyer failed in both regards, but was likely given another chance because of his Buckeye coaching record (73-8).
Much will be learned about Meyer’s character this season and how he responds when the next off-field challenge comes, as it surely will.
The 2018-19 Buckeye season, meanwhile, will be marked with an asterisk. The first three games may not count on Meyer’s personal career win-loss total, but the Zach Smith saga will be a blemish on his legacy no matter how many national championships Meyer ultimately wins.
All is not lost. Both Meyer and OSU have a golden opportunity to right the season’s embarrassing start. A good beginning will be to elevate domestic violence awareness to a level playing field with football.