Throughout the ordeal that resulted in the suspensions of Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer and athletic director Gene Smith, the one measure of solace to Buckeyes fans was that possible NCAA violations did not look to be part of the equation.
The handling by Meyer and Smith of the domestic-abuse allegations against former assistant coach Zach Smith by his ex-wife, Courtney, was the issue. It wasn’t about NCAA violations such as cheating to nab a recruit or payments for something like, well, tattoos or memorabilia.
But the findings of the investigatory committee show that the NCAA may have interest, after all. In its 23-page report, investigators mentioned two instances that could draw NCAA attention.
The first was a trip that Zach Smith made to a strip club while on a recruiting trip to Florida on May 8, 2014. According to the report, Smith spent about $600 at the strip club while with another unspecified Ohio State coach and one or more high school coaches. The report said that chief of football operations Brian Voltolini was aware of the trip.
If Smith paid for a high school coach, that could be a problem in the eyes of the NCAA.
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Section 13.8.1 of the NCAA Division I manual states, “An institutional coaching staff member is expressly prohibited from spending funds to entertain the prospective student-athlete’s coach on or off the member institution’s campus.”
One former NCAA official told The Dispatch on Thursday that he expects that Ohio State’s compliance office would be reviewing all of Zach Smith’s expense reports closely.
Even apart from the 2015 domestic-abuse allegations, from which Smith was not charged, the list of his unsavory behaviors could pose an issue. The committee reported that Smith engaged in a sexual relationship with a secretary on the football staff, took sexually explicit photos of himself, including at the White House, and had sex-related toys delivered to his office.
The committee said that while it believed that certain members of the football staff were aware of these issues “to some degree,” it did not believe Meyer or Gene Smith were aware of them.
But provision 220.127.116.11 of the NCAA manual states that it is the responsibility of the head coach to be responsible for the staff members who report, directly or indirectly, to him.
Zach Smith was fired on July 23. Meyer was placed on paid administrative leave on Aug. 1. He is now suspended through Sept. 2, won’t be able to coach the Buckeyes’ first three games and will forgo six weeks of compensation. Gene Smith will be suspended without pay from Aug. 31 to Sept. 16.
Ohio State spokesman Chris Davey said Thursday that the Office of University Compliance and Integrity is reviewing information pertaining to any possible NCAA violation.
“We take any potential NCAA violation very seriously,” Davie said, “and this set of facts has been referred to our compliance office for a complete review.”
Meyer’s teams have not faced NCAA issues, other than secondary violations that almost every team commits because of carelessness or the vagaries of the rule book. Several of his players while he coached at Florida got into legal trouble, but not with the colleges’ governing body. Ohio State’s record under Meyer has been excellent.