Contract language could determine Meyer's future
On March 27, Urban Meyer signed a two-year contract extension that increased his salary by $1.2 million to $7.6 million per year.
Included in that contract addendum was a little-noted clause specifying his responsibilities regarding possible violations of Title IX or related university policies. Whether Meyer was in breach of those responsibilities will be a key factor in whether he coaches at Ohio State again.
The section in his amended contract states that Meyer must report to Title IX coordinator (Kellie Brennan) or deputy Title IX coordinator for athletics (Janine Oman) of “any known violations of Ohio State’s Sexual Misconduct Policy.”
That would include “sexual harassment, sexual assault, sexual exploitation, intimate violence and stalking” involving any student, faculty or staff or that is in connection with a university sponsored activity or event.” According to the contract, a “known violation” means one that the coach is aware of or has “reasonable cause to believe is taking place or may have taken place.”
Last week at Ohio State’s Big Ten media day in Chicago, Meyer said he did not know anything about accusations of domestic abuse against former wide receivers coach Zach Smith in 2015 by his now ex-wife, Courtney.
On Wednesday, Courtney Smith told WatchStadium.com that she had texted Meyer’s wife, Shelley, repeatedly about the abuse and believed that Urban Meyer knew about it, though she said she couldn’t be sure. Several hours later, Ohio State placed its football coach on paid administrative leave pending an investigation.
On Thursday, Ohio State’s board of trustees announced a six-person special independent working group to investigate Urban Meyer. The committee includes current trustees Alex Fischer, Janet Porter and Alex Shumate. They will be joined by former Ohio House Speaker Jo Ann Davidson, former acting U.S. Deputy Attorney General Craig Morford and Carter Stewart, former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio.
Though the language in Meyer’s contract regarding Title IX issues are clear, whether they are applicable in his current circumstance is murkier.
Broadly, Title IX prohibits discrimination based on gender in educational programs. It has historically helped ensure that women have equal opportunity in college sports, but more recently, has played a large role in efforts to curb sexual misconduct on college campuses.
The law protects students and employees within a university who may have been subjected to sex-based discrimination or harassment, but it’s unclear whether its protections would extend to a partner of a university employee, such as Courtney Smith.
“If any responsible employee, as that role is defined under Title IX, knows of intimate partner violence or other forms of sex or gender-based discrimination occurring within a federally-funded educational program, that employee would be obligated to promptly notify the school’s Title IX coordinator of what they know,” Brett Sokolow, president of the Association of Title IX Administrators, said in an emailed statement, speaking about Title IX generally and not specifically Ohio State.
"This is a tough case," said Alyssa Peterson, policy and advocacy coordinator at Know Your IX, an advocacy group aimed and ending sexual and dating violence in schools. "Title IX looks at the civil rights of students and it doesn’t cover people who are affiliated to employees."
But Peterson added that Smith "could have also been a danger to someone in the (football) program."
"If that’s true, the university then has a responsibility to correct the hostile environment," she said.
Ohio State officials would not comment Thursday on potential Title IX violations. Brennan said only that "we’ll continue to investigate the allegations that have come in."
Ohio State’s sexual misconduct policy states that all university employees have a duty to report sexual misconduct. However, the policy also states that it applies only to alleged sexual misconduct that takes place on university property or university-sponsored events. The policy might apply to alleged sexual misconduct off campus, if the Title IX coordinator determines the misconduct could “reasonably create a hostile environment.”
Ohio State is currently undergoing a university-wide review of its Title IX policies after an evaluation found its campus sexual assault center failed to properly report sexual assaults.