COLUMBUS, Ohio — There is a tangible aura of transition on this massive campus this weekend. Moving vans are double-parked, boxes are overflowing and parents are unloading cars as students return to Ohio State by the tens of thousands for the 2018-19 academic year.
The lingering question is whether this transition period will include a moving out of the most famous man on campus — football coach Urban Meyer.
Ohio State announced Friday afternoon that its independent inquiry into Meyer, and his handling of domestic abuse allegations against former assistant coach Zach Smith, will be completed as planned on Sunday, 14 days after it began. After that, its findings will be delivered to the university board of trustees. From there, school president Michael V. Drake will deliberate with the board and a decision will be made.
The expectation is that Meyer’s fate will be announced sometime next week. A large, fiercely loyal and decidedly anxious fan base is left waiting and wondering. Just off a street named Undisputed Way in honor of the 2014 national championship team, there’s an undisputed feeling of muddled confliction. There’s a comfort in Meyer’s paid leave and a general desire for his return. But that’s only provided that the investigation found Meyer properly handled the allegations against Smith.
“It’s kind of a mess,” said Christian Rivers, a junior from Pickerington, Ohio, as he walked through the Ohio State Student Union on Friday. “I don’t really know what to believe. If Urban knew [about Smith’s alleged abuse of his ex-wife, Courtney], he should be gone. I love Urban as a coach, but if he did wrong, he did wrong. Some people think this is about football, but it’s really about decent human morality.”
Although every student interviewed by Yahoo Sports acknowledged not having a full command of the case and all the facts, many of them were viewing the situation through more than just a football prism. They adored Meyer as a coach and enjoyed the benefits of his winning, but they don’t want him back if he enabled Smith.
“I think everyone is confused by what to think,” said Justin Levine, who’d just returned from his home outside New York City to what he called a “weird vibe” on campus. “You hope that he did nothing wrong, and you hope that he’s back on the field week one against Oregon State. But at the same time, if he was hiding something like that it’s inexcusable.”
What became apparent later on Friday was that the behavior Smith exhibited in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center may end up being inexcusable for university administrators as well. The domestic abuse allegations into Smith have put his personal and professional life under media scrutiny, and the results have gone from dark allegations of his domestic behavior to lurid. Brett McMurphy reported on Stadium that Smith had sex with a former staffer in his office and took photographs. McMurphy also reported that Smith took pictures of his penis when Ohio State visited the White House.
Before Friday’s latest news drop on Stadium, the story had hit a bit of a lull in Ohio. Dustin Fox, a former Buckeye player who hosts the “Bull & Fox” radio show on 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland, said Meyer’s status hadn’t been much of a conversation topic the last three days.
Locally, the Columbus Dispatch didn’t mention Meyer’s name or even have a passing reference to Buckeye football in Friday’s newspaper. There was a front-page story that alluded to what a tenuous time it is at the university, as the top story read: “Feds investigate Ohio State.” It is in relation to the other salacious scandal on campus, the wide-spread sexual assault case tied to former university physician Richard Strauss.
With little news on Meyer’s case and interview access cut off, there hadn’t been much to talk about. To fill the vacuum, Ohio State released position-by-position breakdowns via a letter from interim coach Ryan Day, which elicited some gentle mockery on Twitter.
Fox said the state of the situation was best summed up on his show this week by Bruce Hooley, a host on 105.7 The Zone in Columbus, who said that the story has evolved to where few people were seeking facts anymore. Instead, they were looking for information that supported their point of view. Fox summed it up this way: “Everyone is on pins and needles. And everyone just wants it over with.”
As the Friday happy hour crowd trickled into The Varsity Club across the street from Ohio Stadium, “Wagon Wheel” crackled through the speakers. A sign on the wall memorialized the endearing dive being ranked one of the country’s Top 20 college bars by SPORT Magazine in 1986, a testimony to the enduring power of a quintessential college dive.
Above the bar, Meyer’s image flashed on ESPN. On the wall, there’s an autographed picture Meyer personalized to the bar. Bartender Lizzie Golden, a 2014 Ohio State graduate, identified the primary emotions toward Meyer’s situation as “confusion” and “uncertainty.” She said because of the sensitivity surrounding domestic violence issues and no clear fact set in the case, she hadn’t heard patrons unequivocally coming to Meyer’s defense. They were waiting and seeing, just like everyone. Golden has worked at the bar for seven years and observed that life will move on whatever the university decides. “Either way, there’s going to be football at Ohio State,” she said. “No one is bigger than the institution.”
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