Hey, NCAA: Urban’s pouty presser is a fumble worth recovering

Urban Meyer had a little over two minutes to convince the nation that he was sorry. He failed. Instead the three-time national championship-winning coach recited the words given to him on a prepared statement that he might not have read before stepping to the podium–or at least that’s what his demeanor showed. Meyer’s monotone, unconvincing recitation of the words on the page revealed he was at this press conference only because he had to be. His statement was a forced semi-apology from an individual who believed he did nothing wrong.

More offensive than the tone of his statement was Meyer’s message.

“I am fully aware that I am ultimately responsible for this situation that has harmed the university as a whole and our department of athletics and our football program. I want to apologize to Buckeye Nation. (Full statement below).

He issued no apology to Courtney Smith for failing to report any one of her ex-husband’s bouts of domestic violence that Ohio State’s independent investigation revealed Meyer was aware of. He balked at questions during the press conference and seemed more disappointed that his own performance at the Big Ten Media Day got him into this situation rather than remorse for failing to protect a potential victim of domestic violence numerous times.

If Meyer’s Big Ten media performance was a PR disaster, the outcry against the coach in the past twenty-four hours has been nothing but a full-fledged crisis for the university. Meyer’s pouty apology combined with his mere three-game suspension prove to some that Ohio State “values winning more than morality.”

What it tells me is that the NCAA’s longtime system of self-policing is no longer capable of handling its highest valued actors. NCAA institutions are first and foremost governed by the institutions themselves, through their compliance departments. It is the duty of the coaches to report potential violations of NCAA and university rules to the compliance office, which will then file a violation report to the NCAA. However, if the coach doesn’t report, there is a good chance compliance will never find out, especially when that coach is a three-time national champion who makes $7.6M per year and has the university’s football pre-ranked fifth going into the season.

When the university fails to police itself the NCAA enforcement staff steps in. Ohio State has dealt with this group once before during “Tattoogate“, when then-head coach Jim Tressel resigned because current players, including Terrelle Pryor, were found to have exchanged signed memorabilia for tattoos, and possibly even used cars, in direct violation of NCAA Improper Benefits rules. If Enforcement steps in a large penalty is often dealt out, as was the case at Ohio State (one-year ban on all post-season play and pay, including conference championships, and a reduction in scholarships from 85 to 82 for each of the next three years) and at USC during the Reggie Bush scandal (Trojans’ football program barred from bowl games in 2010, 2011 seasons, USC forced to vacate all victories in which Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush participated beginning in December 2004 — including its 2005 BCS title, and loss of 10 scholarships in each of the next three seasons).

Yet the NCAA stepped in during these cases when the institutions failed to investigate and issue penalties. The question remains if the NCAA will act when the university has issued punishment, although it does not appear to fit the crime.

If the NCAA is smart, it will conduct its own investigation on Meyer and issue a steeper punishment, especially given the prominence of the #MeToo movement in today’s society. The independent Ohio State investigation of Meyer found it more likely than not that Meyer was both aware of and failed to report many instances of domestic abuse by assistant coach Zach Smith.  These failures directly violate his employment contract and Ohio State University conduct policies. Yet Meyer showed little remorse for these breaches of conduct, as clearly demonstrated by his presser.

Meyer’s press conference was not just a black eye for Ohio State.  It was another chink in the NCAA’s armor: an indication that its highest revenue generators are above the 400+ pages of rules listed in the Division I Manual. Over the past twelve months, the NCAA has appeared inept at governing its most powerful actors (see UNC academic fraud, Louisville recruiting via prostitution and adult entertainment, college basketball pay-for-play FBI investigation and indictments). Its real Committee on Infractions, the group responsible for investigating violations, has become the FBI; its enforcement staff the United States Attorneys’ Office. What better an opportunity to show the organization still has some semblance of control than by stepping in and increasing Meyer’s punishment beyond Ohio State’s preseason schedule?

So, once again NCAA you have a choice. Accept Ohio State’s self-inflicted slap on the wrist, or investigate and dole out a punishment that fits the crime–your choice.

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