Ruthenberg: Meyer saga far from being over

Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer walks the sidelines against Wisconsin Dec. 2, 2017 in Indianapolis. Ohio State hosts Oregon State on Saturday to open the college football season without Meyer, who is sitting out the first of three games after his suspension. (AP Photo)

Having had a week to digest the investigative report released by Ohio State University on head coach Urban Meyer has not done anything to temper the initial impression that the fix was in from the start. There was no way OSU was going to fire Meyer short of his committing a felony, and even then that would have been questionable.

New questions have arisen about attempts to potentially conceal evidence have emerged and, in addition, an aspect of the scandal surrounding Meyer's clear untruths about his knowledge of domestic abuse allegations against former assistant Zach Smith may touch the Big 12.

It has been revealed by Ohio State to the Columbus Dispatch newspaper that current Texas head coach Tom Herman was the "other" Buckeyes' assistant coach who accompanied Smith to a Miami strip joint on a 2014 recruiting trip where Smith racked up a $600 tab and forced Meyer and OSU to implement new rules about such behavior.

But back to the investigation.

All you need to know that the investigative committee was set up with the intention of clearing, or at least minimizing damage, is this comment from an investigative team spokesperson at the press conference about Meyer’s denials of his knowledge of the Smith matter during Big 10 Media Days that opened this whole can of worms:

 “While those denials were plainly not accurate, Coach Meyer did not in our view deliberately lie," the spokesperson said.

Yes, the spokesperson actually said, in essence, Meyer lied but he didn’t mean to lie. Now, that would not be an acceptable explanation from a 5-year-old, never mind from a major university. The fact it was said with a straight face is maybe even more disturbing.

It is incredibly tone-deaf in today’s environment to treat domestic abuse allegations so casually, but when you are in charge of a multi-million dollar cash cow like Ohio State football, you get to play by different rules.

The resulting three-game suspension that sees Meyer benched for the opening one-quarter of Ohio State’s season against Oregon State, Rutgers and TCU will have little to no impact on the Buckeyes’ Big 10 title aspirations. Two of the three games are against non-conference opponents and the one game against a conference foe is against hapless Rutgers.

While most reacted with a mixture of condemnation and borderline disgust with the punishment and sham investigation, not surprisingly, Buckeye fans rushed to the defense of Meyer and to disparage the press — particularly Brett McMurphy, whose reporting started the whole process.

We shouldn’t be surprised rabid fans of a large, successful program would gladly turn a blind eye to major indiscretions against the team’s coach if it threatened their winning ways and by transference their own sense of worth, especially members of “Buckeye Nation” who seem to take it to new levels.

However, let’s be honest, if a similar situation befell the Sooners or Alabama, we would likely see much the same reaction from a large faction of their fan bases rushing to defend their coach and assuming the media was conspiring to bring down their program. It seems to go with the territory.

The supposed punishment handed down by Ohio State only served to reinforce that notion in the minds of overzealous fans. 

The fact Meyer apologized to “Buckeye Nation” without mentioning the name of the alleged victim of domestic abuse, Courtney Smith, — as documented in a 2009 arrest report Meyer failed to disclose to Ohio State when he offered old buddy Smith a position on his coaching staff — spoke volumes. It was more important to offer a mea culpa to season ticket holders and donors.

If Meyer had been coming off a 6-6 season that included a loss to rival Michigan, does anybody doubt the outcome of the investigation would have been different or if Ohio State would have even bothered with an investigation?

But Meyer’s troubles may not be over.

According to a report by The Associated Press, when investigators obtained Meyer’s cell phone, it was set to retain only texts within the past year. AP reported investigators said Meyer and the football team’s director of operations had discussed ways to delete messages older than one year old and that conversation took place the same day the story from McMurphy broke.

Investigators called the discussion “concerning.” It’s more than that according to a Columbus, Ohio, open records lawyer.

Fred Gittes told AP “any elimination of texts on Meyer’s university-issued phone related to his coaching responsibility would break Ohio’s open records law.”

AP made an open records request to Ohio State on Aug. 2, but has not had a response.

At every step, Meyer has acted like somebody with something to cover up.

Now, with the tentacles of the facts uncovered in the wake of the attempted coverup potentially reaching the level of illegality and ancillary facts possibly touching as deep as Texas, it looks like this story will continue to have traction.

It may even be enough to trouble Buckeye Nation.

Ruthenberg is sports editor for the News & Eagle. Contact him at daver@enidnews.com.