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Football: Urban Meyer investigation wrapping up after weeks-long saga

Urban Meyer watches the Buckeyes from the sideline in the second quarter of the game against Michigan on Nov. 25 in Ann Arbor. Ohio State won 31-20. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Managing Editor for Design

The Ohio State football team could be headed toward another dominant season in 2018.

But who will lead the talented team onto the field in its season opener as head coach is anyone’s guess.

On Aug. 1, head coach Urban Meyer was placed on administrative leave while the university began to investigate his knowledge about the reported abuse former assistant coach Zach Smith was involved in against his ex-wife, Courtney Smith.

Smith was fired from Ohio State on July 23 due to allegations stemming from incidents in 2009, when he was on staff with Meyer at Florida, and another in 2015 when the pair were at Ohio State.

At Big Ten Media Days on July 24, Meyer said he was aware of the 2009 incident and had decided to not fire Smith because police did not find sufficient evidence to charge, but was not aware of the incident in 2015.

“I can’t say it didn’t happen because I wasn’t there. I was never told about anything,” Meyer said, referencing the 2015 incident. “The first I heard about that was last night.”

It was later reported Meyer knew about the 2015 incident, something Meyer later acknowledged in a statement in which he said he followed the “proper reporting protocols.” Zach Smith later said athletic director Gene Smith also knew of the allegations when he was told by police. This led to Meyer being placed on paid administrative leave, and the university beginning its investigation of the head coach.

On Monday, Ohio State announced that the Board of Trustees will be meeting at 9 a.m. on Wednesday to discuss the findings of its 14-day investigation of Meyer.

Matthew Mitten, a professor of law and the executive director of the National Sports Law Institute at Marquette University Law School, said an investigation by the university is important and has to be done right, especially since charges were never pressed against Smith.

“The university does not have police powers. They’re not experts in investigation,” Mitten said. “What they’ve done is they’ve hired an independent law firm out of New York to investigate everything that went on. But that investigative group, they don’t have the power to require people to testify or give a statement.”

Lucas Sullivan of The Columbus Dispatch reported Monday the likely recommendation for Meyer is a suspension, which could be a “time served” punishment due to him being placed on administrative leave on Aug. 1.

Conducting a thorough investigation can be hard in a day and age where many wanted an announcement last week firing Meyer, while an equally vocal crowd wanted an announcement last week protecting his job.

Part of the university’s job will be handling public pressure while seeing the process through.

“You’ve got really substantial public interest and 24/7 social media,” Mitten said. “We saw this with the NFL, and we’ve certainly seen it with college teams, they’re basically trying to protect the reputation of their brand, and with the university it’s not just the athletic department it’s also everything else, the primary mission of the university is academics. They’ve got to hold themselves a high standard, as I think Ohio State is doing that.”

In Meyer’s absence, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Ryan Day was named acting head coach and has been running fall camp while the Buckeyes prepare for the season opener.

With less than two weeks before the season begins against Oregon State, the AP poll took notice of the national headlines that Ohio State has made in the last month.

In the preseason Amway Coaches Poll released on Aug. 2, just one day after Meyer was placed on paid leave, Ohio State was named as the No. 3 team in the nation and earned one first place vote behind No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Clemson.

Instead, Ohio State is not the first Big Ten team ranked by AP, with Wisconsin being placed as the No. 4 team and earning one first-place vote in the preseason poll.

The national polls indicate, despite the instability at the head coaching position going into the season, that the talent Meyer has accumulated in his time as head coach will keep Ohio State at the level of success it was expected to have.

However, without knowing if or when Meyer will be back, the long-term results are still to be seen.

 

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