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Ohio State Trustee Resigns Over Urban Meyer Punishment

Nick Evans

Ohio State trustee Jeffrey Wadsworth has resigned, saying that the university's punishment of head football coach Urban Meyer was too lenient.

Last Wednesday, Ohio State suspended Meyer after a two-week investigation found that he failed to respond appropriately to allegations of domestic violence against an assistant coach. Deliberations by the board lasted almost 12 hours behind closed doors.

In a letter to university president Michael Drake and Board of Trustees Chair Michael Gasser, Wadsworth said it would be “hypocritical” to continue serving as a trustee.

“I heard enough in the meeting to persuade me that I do not want to be a party, through endorsing today’s decision or remaining on the Board, to implicitly or explicitly support current or future actions on such issues,” he wrote Wednesday night.

In a preceding email, Wadsworth stressed his decision was “exclusively based” on the suspension decision, and that there was nothing else keeping him from finishing his term on the board.

Speaking toThe New York TimesWadsworth said the university should have been more strict in its punishment of Meyer, who was suspended without pay through September 16.

"Most people were concerned about whether it was a several-game suspension or not," Wadsworth told the Times. "To me, there was something altogether wrong about reducing it to a couple of games."

In an email, Ohio State confirmed that Wadsworth stepped down from the board last week. Wadsworthis the former president and CEO of Battelle Memorial Institute, and was scheduled to serve through 2019.

"Mr. Wadsworth has been an exceptionally valuable member of the board," said the university in a statement. "His service to the university is deeply appreciated, and we wish him the very best."

Attempts by WOSU to reach Wadsworth have so far been unsuccssful.

Meyer will miss the first three games of the season. Athletic director Gene Smith will also be suspended without pay from August 31-September 16. 

Wadsworth told the Times he had "larger concerns" about the board's decision.

"I felt that getting into a limited number of games that was a suspension missed the point of a bigger culture concern about, 'What message were we sending?'" Wadsworth said.

Ohio State fired receivers coach and head recruiter Zach Smith in July, following a trepassing incident involving his ex-wife Courtney Smith, who filed for a protection order. Zach Smith had been investigated twice before for alleged domestic abuse, once in 2009 and once in 2015. In both cases, police ultimately decided not to pursue charges.

Meyer was placed on administrative leave in August when conflicting reports emerged about what he knew of Zach Smith's history. He later admitted he knew about and reported the 2015 incident.

A two-week-long investigation led by a special committe of the Ohio State Board of Trustees found that neither Smith nor Meyer "condone domestic abuse" or attempted to cover up the information. However, the review concluded that both "failed to take sufficient management action relating to Zach Smith's misconduct."

Meyer admitted that he repeatedly gave Zach Smith "the benefit of the doubt" because of their history together. The review founda string of "problematic or at least questionable behavior" by Smith that went unpunished.

"Coach Meyer and Athletic Director Smith's efforts to help Zach Smith overcome his personal issues went too far in allowing him to remain as an employee in the face of repeated misconduct," the review said.

The review also raised concerns that Meyer may have deleted text messages following reports about his comments on Zach Smith. Doing so may have violated Ohio's open records laws.

Ohio State's football team plays its home opener on Saturday afternoon against Oregon State, with offensive coordinator Ryan Day filling in as interim coach.

Gabe Rosenberg joined WOSU in October 2016. As digital news editor, Gabe reports breaking news and edits all content for the WOSU website, as well as manages the station's social media accounts.
Nick Evans was a reporter at WOSU's 89.7 NPR News. He spent four years in Tallahassee, Florida covering state government before joining the team at WOSU.