Ohio State trustee resigns, believes Urban Meyer punishment was lenient

One Ohio State trustee has resigned from his position in the aftermath of the university’s decision to suspend head coach Urban Meyer for three games.

In an interview with the New York Times, the trustee, Jeffrey Wadsworth, said the suspension for Meyer was too lenient. Meyer was placed on administrative leave on Aug. 1 and, after a two-week investigation, was given a suspension for the way he handled the misconduct of assistant coach Zach Smith over the course of several years, including alleged domestic abuse.

“I didn’t feel that I’d seen high-integrity behavior,” Wadsworth told the Times of Meyer.

Wadsworth was a ‘lone’ opposing voice

Last Wednesday, the Ohio State Board of Trustees met with University president Michael V. Drake for nearly 12 hours in deliberating the punishment for Meyer. Among that group, Wadsworth described himself as a “lone voice” calling for a more severe punishment for Meyer, who is suspended without pay until Sept. 3, and also cannot coach his team until Week 4 against Tulane.

The university commissioned an outside group to investigate the way Meyer responded to multiple instances of misconduct by Smith that was known within the football program and athletic department, including a 2015 allegation of domestic violence against his then-wife, Courtney.

Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer, right, answers questions as athletic director Gene Smith listens during a news conference in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)
Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer, right, answers questions as athletic director Gene Smith listens during a news conference in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)

Mary Jo White led that investigation and said in a press conference that a main part of the decision to levy a three-game suspension, instead of a more severe penalty, was because the investigators could not prove Meyer “deliberately” lied when he said he didn’t know about the 2015 allegation at Big Ten Media Days.

Other findings included Meyer communicating with director of football operations Brian Voltolini about deleting old text messages from his phone. The investigative report also said Meyer had “significant memory issues.”

Wadsworth is skeptical. From the Times:

The inquiry also found that Mr. Meyer had sought to delete records from his cellphone. And it found that Mr. Smith’s behavior, including failure to pay cellphone bills, a stint in rehab for substance abuse and “promiscuous and embarrassing sexual behavior” raised several other red flags. Mr. Smith has denied ever abusing his former wife, who made the allegations.

Investigators found discrepancies between Mr. Meyer’s account of some events and others’, and in at least one instance suggested that Mr. Meyer had lied to them.

“You read the report,” Mr. Wadsworth said, “and there’s seven or eight things about emails, memory loss, hearing things five times, and to me, that raised an issue of standards, values — not how many games someone should be suspended for.”

‘What message were we sending?’

Wadsworth said when the board was deliberating the number of games Meyer would be suspended, the larger conversation was lost. For that reason, he decided to leave the meeting when it broke for lunch and not return.

“It became clear to me where we were, discussing penalties, and I wasn’t ready to do that,” he said. “I was in a different place. I felt that getting into a limited number of games that was a suspension missed the point of a bigger cultural concern about ‘What message were we sending?’”

Wadsworth, the first trustee to speak publicly about the deliberations, said the possibility of firing Meyer was raised, but the discussion shifted toward a suspension early on. He sent his resignation to Drake via email “about an hour” after the decision was made public, he told the Times.

Wadsworth, the former president of Battelle Memorial Institute, a nonprofit science and technology company based in Columbus, was once a chairman of the board.

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