Meyer issue the bad side of college sports

PITTSBURGH — College football game day is coming.

That means cheerleaders, bands, the stadium packed with fans wearing school colors and, ideally, a competitive game.

That’s what people love about college football. It’s everything else about it that should make them sick.

The headlines provided that reminder last week with the news that head coach Urban Meyer had been suspended for three games by Ohio State.

That was the penalty for his failure to properly handle allegations of domestic abuse by assistant coach Zach Smith against his former wife, Courtney. Really, the suspension is more like one game. For the other two, Meyer is allowed to run practices but can’t work the games.

It took university officials more than 12 hours to arrive at that decision. You would hope at some point in that marathon there was a moment of clarity where someone realized Ohio State is supposed to be an institution of higher learning and not a football team with an undergraduate program attached to it.

But college football doesn’t work that way. It’s a money machine. Urban Meyer’s football team will bring in more money than any ethics professor has ever imagined.

So when something unpleasant happens, there’s endless consternation. Will the NCAA get involved? Is there a chance of losing scholarships or bowl games? Protect the franchise.

It’s been speculated that Meyer remained loyal to Smith because of his admiration for Smith’s grandfather, the late Earle Bruce, who coached at Ohio State from 1979-87. That’s possible, but it’s more likely Meyer’s faith in Smith was rooted in the belief he could help Ohio State win football games.

Here’s what the official Ohio State report said:

“We identified a pattern of troubling behavior by Zach Smith: promiscuous and embarrassing sexual behavior, drug abuse, truancy, dishonesty, financial irresponsibility, a possible NCAA violation, and a lengthy police investigation into allegations on criminal domestic abuse and cyber crimes.”

Kind of sounds like Dean Wormer checklisting the guys from Delta House in “Animal House,” but this isn’t a comedy.

The report further said Smith’s behavior was, “met with reprimands and warnings by Coach Meyer, but never a written report, never an investigation and no disciplinary action until July 23, 2018.”

In other words, Meyer didn’t do anything until he could feel the heat approaching his desk. Then he started scrubbing text messages from his phone.

Smith’s lawyer Tweeted this message when asked for comment: “Zach Smith married a woman he should not have married. Vengeance against her ex-husband regrettably resulted in collateral damage to Urban Meyer, (athletic director) Gene Smith and The Ohio State University.”

So there you have it. Urban Meyer is portrayed as a victim, which shows how askew these things can go when it’s time to protect the football program.

Meyer was summoned to a news conference, at which he issued a half-hearted apology of sorts. He read the script like a disinterested fifth-grader delivering a book report to his class.

When asked if he had a message for Courtney Smith, the best Meyer could muster was, “I have a message for everyone involved in this: I’m sorry we’re in this situation.”

In other words, look at what this has done to our football season. What if this hurts recruiting? Or donations?

A couple days later, Meyer issued a more complete statement, no doubt after his handlers realized how tone deaf and hopelessly selfish his original response was.

Ohio State will get past this. The band will play, the cheerleaders will yell, the fans will wear school colors and the games will go on. Business as usual. That’s too bad.

Ohio State officials made a big mistake when they suspended Meyer. They should have fired him.

Mehno can be reached at johnmehnocolumn@gmail.com

COMMENTS