At the end of a typical college football game, many players have smudges of dirt and grass on their uniforms. Ohio State is a bit different. Before the first kickoff, the entire program is wearing a conspicuous stain.

On Thursday, the university announced that it was suspending head coach Urban Meyer for three weeks and athletic director Gene Smith for two weeks over their handling of assistant coach Zach Smith. He was fired in July after his ex-wife Courtney got a protective order, accusing him of stalking and harassment as well as “physical violence.”

He had been arrested in 2009, while working for Meyer at the University of Florida, for aggravated battery against her. At the time, they were married and she was pregnant– but she ultimately declined to press charges. In 2015, police investigated new allegations of more violence by her husband against her.

A report by investigators commissioned by Ohio State found Zach Smith’s record littered with seamy conduct, including spending $600 at a strip club with a high school coach, having an affair with a secretary on the football staff, taking sexually explicit photos of himself at university football sites and the White House, and claiming he made recruiting visits that he had skipped.

Meyer knew about the 2015 abuse allegations, but he and the athletic director didn’t see the need to inform their superiors, as university rules mandate. When news reports emerged about the restraining order, Meyer asked an associate athletic director how to delete old text messages from his phone — which, when examined by investigators, had none that dated back more than a year. When Meyer was asked at the July 24 Big Ten media day about the 2015 episode, he denied knowing about it.

The report noted, “Repeatedly, Zach Smith’s conduct 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 fact, Smith got big pay raises.

At the news conference where his suspension was announced, Meyer downplayed his errors. When asked what message he had for Courtney Smith, his bland reply was: “I have a message for everyone involved in this. I’m sorry that we are in the situation.”

The penalty he faces, missing the first three contests of the season, is mighty light punishment. It’s also probably less than what a losing head coach would have gotten — staying among the elite powers in the game is obviously a high priority with school trustees and administrators.

Editorial by Chicago Tribune

©2018 Chicago Tribune

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