Meyer’s future depends on Ohio State’s desires


University officials have lots to consider as probe continues

Associated Press

COLUMBUS

The Urban Meyer investigation is costing Ohio State $500,000, but whether the superstar football coach keeps his job still comes down to whether the university wants to stick with him based on how he’s already been tainted by the scandal.

Meyer is on paid leave while Ohio State pays an outside firm to investigate and a six-member university committee considers whether he responded properly to accusations of domestic abuse made against one of his coaches, Zach Smith, who has been fired.

But Meyer has already given his bosses plenty to consider — he says he knew of domestic violence allegations against Zach Smith before he brought Smith to coach wide receivers at Ohio State, and that he reported new accusations properly when they surfaced in 2015.

University officials expect to make a decision within about a week in what could come down to a public relations balancing act involving the school’s reputation, $38 million in future salary under Meyer’s contract and other jobs at stake.

WHY FIRE MEYER?

Meyer knew about a 2009 domestic incident in Gainesville, Florida, when Smith was a graduate assistant coach for Meyer’s Florida team. A police report says that during an argument Zach Smith picked up a pregnant Courtney and threw her against a wall. Zach Smith was never charged.

Knowing that, Meyer allowed Smith to stay on staff at Florida and then brought Smith in at Ohio State. Meyer also knew about the 2015 abuse allegations , but Smith kept his job until Courtney Smith filed for a restraining order on July 20.

“At the end of the day, [Meyer is] the highest-paid state employee in Ohio, and you have a lot more responsibility than coaching,” said B. David Ridpath, an associate professor of sports administration at Ohio University in Athens. “And clearly there was enough smoke with Zach Smith that they should have gotten rid of him a long time ago.”

Ohio State didn’t put Meyer on leave until Courtney Smith talked to a reporter, saying she was abused for years by her ex-husband. Zach Smith has denied her abuse allegations and has never been prosecuted for abuse.

The Meyer investigation plays out at a time when the school itself is under scrutiny around the handling of misconduct allegations.

Ohio State has a growing list of more than 100 former students and athletes who say they were groped and otherwise mistreated by Dr. Richard Strauss, a deceased athletic department doctor who worked at the university for nearly 20 years. There are questions about whether Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan knew about the abuse when he was an assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State during the same time.

At least three federal lawsuits have been filed against Ohio State by men who say they were abused by Strauss.

Don’t expect fans and critics to separate the scandals when a decision is made on Meyer.

WHY KEEP MEYER?

Meyer said he followed “proper protocol and procedures” after finding out about the 2015 abuse allegations.

“Please know that the truth is the ultimate power, and I am confident I took appropriate action,” Meyer said in a tweeted statement.

Meyer didn’t detail those actions but the crafted statement was clearly a public defense of his job.

Meyer signed a contract extension in the spring with new language that requires him to promptly report any “known violations” of Ohio State’s sexual misconduct policy to the school’s Title IX officials.

The policy includes sexual harassment, intimate violence and stalking “that involves any student, faculty or staff.”

The clause doesn’t specify how Meyer should treat older accusations.

Meyer may have limited responsibility for reporting because of the scope of behavior covered by the misconduct policy and Title IX, according to Micaela Deming, staff attorney with the Ohio Domestic Violence Network.

Both the policy and Title IX focus on incidents on-campus or at university-related events, she said. So in the case of Zach Smith’s 2015 arrest, “this off-campus, non-student-involved domestic violence incident seems to be largely excluded from both the sexual harassment policy and Title IX,” Deming said.

If Meyer did everything he was supposed to do, Ohio State then faces the question of whether to fire him without cause, leaving the university on the hook for $38 million to pay off the balance of his contract.

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