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Urban Meyer to remain as Ohio State’s head coach, but suspended for first three games without pay

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Exactly three weeks after being forced to the sidelines, Urban Meyer is back.  Eventually.

Following an executive session of its Board of Trustees that lasted nearly a dozen hours, Ohio State announced Wednesday night that Meyer will be retained as the Buckeyes’ head football coach.  However, Meyer will be suspended, without pay, for the first three games of the 2018 season.

The suspension means that Meyer will be sidelined for games against Oregon State, Rutgers and TCU.  He will be eligible to return for the Sept. 22 game against Tulane.

Meyer will also be suspended through Sept. 2.  That suspension will prevent the coach from taking part in the Buckeyes’ preparations for the season opener against the Beavers Sept. 1.  He will, however, be permitted to take part in all football activities leading up to the Rutgers and TCU games, including practices, player meetings, coaches meetings, etc.

Additionally, athletic director Gene Smith will serve a suspension from Aug. 31 through Sept. 16.  His suspension will be without pay as well.

The investigative team, which presented its findings to the university’s Board of Trustees informally Monday and then formally during the marathon executive session Wednesday, concluded that “[a}lthough Coach Meyer made significant misstatements about his knowledge of the 2015 events relating to Zach Smith and his former wife at the Big Ten Media Days, they were not part of a deliberate cover-up effort to keep Zach Smith on the coaching staff in the face of evidence of domestic violence by him that Athletic Director Smith and Coach Meyer credited.”

The report presented to the board, which consisted of 40 witness interviews and the review of “over 60,000 e-mails and 10,000 text messages,” also concluded that “Coach Meyer has ‘a sincere commitment to the Respect for Women core values that he espouses and tries to instill in his players.'”

From the report:

The Independent Counsel also concluded that Coach Meyer would not hesitate to terminate any coach if spousal abuse was established:

“We believe [Coach Meyer] as did Zach Smith, that if [Coach Meyer] ever came to learn or believe that Zach Smith had physically abused his wife, Coach Meyer would have fired Zach Smith or any other coach on the spot.

In a prepared statement before taking questions from the media, Meyer acknowledged that his loyalty to Earle Bruce, who Meyer considers the most influential male in his life after his father, impacted his judgment when it came to the assistant coach who is the grandson of the former OSU head football coach.

“I followed my heart and not my head,” Meyer stated. “I fell short in pursuing full information because at each juncture I gave Zach Smith the benefit of the doubt.

“As I reflect, my loyalty to his grandfather Earle Bruce, who was my mentor, likely impacted how I treated Zach over the years. I did not know everything about Zach Smith, what Zach Smith was doing and I am pleased that the report made this very clear.

“However, I should have demanded more from him and recognized red flags.”

Meyer was placed on paid administrative leave Aug. 1 as questions into his handling of domestic abuse allegations made against his now-former assistant coach, Zach Smith, surfaced.  The university announced the launching of an investigation into Meyer’s actions the day after the head coach’s leave was announced.

In a statement Aug. 3, Meyer claimed that he has “always followed proper reporting protocols and procedures when I have learned of an incident involving a student-athlete, coach or member of our staff by elevating the issues to the proper channels.” Allegations of domestic abuse stemmed not only from Zach Smith’s time at OSU, but while he was on Meyer’s Florida staff in 2009 as well.

Gene Smith confirmed in the press conference tonight that the university was not aware of Zach Smith’s off-field issues at Florida when he was hired by Meyer as wide receivers coach in December of 2011.  As a result of that, OSU is expected to revamp their hiring procedures and policies — and background checks — when it comes to prospective coaches.

In an Aug. 1 report that preceded Meyer’s initial leave of absence, Courtney Smith, the now-ex-wife of Zach Smith, claimed that Meyer’s wife, Shelley, was aware of the allegations that she was being abused by the then-OSU assistant coach.  Below is the text message exchange between Courtney Smith and Shelley Meyer in 2015:

Shelley: “I am with you! A lot of women stay hoping it will get better. I don’t blame you! But just want u to be safe. Do you have a restraining order? He scares me”
Courtney: “Restraining orders don’t do anything in Ohio-I tried to get protection order which is what started this whole investigation. And that should go through soon finally. It’s hard bc you have to prove immediate danger. Legal system is tough. Basically you have to prove he will kill u to get protective order”
Shelley: “Geesh! Even w the pics? Didn’t law enforcement come to your place ever??

During Wednesday night’s press conference, Meyer claimed that he was never aware of any text messages between his wife and his ex-assistant’s ex-wife “at the time.”

The findings of the investigation concluded with the following:

Although neither Urban Meyer nor Gene Smith condoned or covered up the alleged domestic abuse by Zach Smith, they failed to take sufficient management action relating to Zach Smith’s misconduct and retained an Assistant Coach who was not performing as an appropriate role model for OSU student-athletes. Permitting such misconduct to continue is not consistent with the values of the University and reflects poorly on Coach Meyer, Athletic Director Smith, and the University. Their handling of this matter did not exhibit the kind of leadership and high standards that we expect of our Athletic Director, Head Coach, Assistant Coaches and all on the football staff.

While Meyer apologized to “Buckeye Nation” on at least three occasions — and apologized for the situation everyone found themselves in — he never apologized to Courtney Smith even as he was afforded the opportunity to do so by at least one reporter who mentioned her by name.  The lack of a public apology to the alleged victim, while multiple ones were made to the fanbase, has led to the national media blistering both the coach and the perceived “football-first” culture of the university.

In reports that preceded the official announcement, it was suggested that Meyer was balking at accepting a suspension; when asked if he thought he deserved to be suspended for three games, Meyer’s curt response did nothing to debunk the suggestions.

“I trust and support our president.”

“I know the impact that the events of the last three weeks have had on this institution – an institution that I love – and how challenging this has been for our community and our president, a man for whom I have great respect. And for that, I am deeply sorry,” Meyer said in a statement subsequently distributed by the school. “I am fully aware that I am ultimately responsible for this situation that has harmed the university as a whole, our Department of Athletics and our football program. I want to also apologize to Buckeye Nation.

“The suspensions are tough, but I fully accept them.”

UMass adds Florida State, Pitt, Auburn and others to future schedules beyond 2021

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It’s apparently a big week on the schedule front for FBS independents.

While UConn and Maryland announced a new home-and-home series in what is always going to be known as the Randy Edsall bowl, fellow New England independent UMass had a number of dates added to their calendar this week too.

According to the school, the Minutemen have confirmed several dates and games against Power Five opponents as well as a host of other smaller programs being added to the team’s future docket including:

  • at Pitt on Sept. 4, 2021
  • at Florida State on Oct. 23, 2021
  • at Auburn on Sept. 2, 2023

In addition, FCS foes like Merrimack (Nov. 4, 2023) and Wagner (Sept. 21, 2024) were scheduled. Two other contests were moved as well, including a game against Boston College from Sept. 2022 to Sept. 6, 2025. A game against New Mexico State was shifted up into Week 0 and is now set for Aug. 26, 2023 as well.

The moves give UMass five of their 12 games for 2021-2024 while there’s even more work left to be done beyond that.

“We’ve been hard at work over the last nine months building competitive future schedules that will allow our Independent program to grow and be challenged,” AD Ryan Bamford said in a release. “We are pleased with our scheduling progress and ability to secure agreements with a mix of Power Five, Group of Five and regional FCS opponents.”

The Minutemen host Coastal Carolina on Saturday and have notable games coming up against Army, Northwestern and BYU down the stretch in 2019.

Designs released for UAB’s future stadium in downtown Birmingham

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It’s truly been remarkable how far UAB has come since the program was shuttered just a few years ago but the next major step in the rebirth of the Blazers came on Wednesday as the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex unveiled the latest plans for the upcoming $175 million football stadium that the CUSA program will soon call home.

You can check out the latest renderings here.

The 45,000 seat venue is designed to host a number of different events once completed in 2021 but the primary purpose each fall will be UAB home games. As you would expect, all the modern design elements for a stadium nowadays are incorporated, such as suites, open concourses, a large press box and a hefty number of restrooms (including nearly double the number for women than men).

The price tag for everything is set at right around $175 million for the project, with bids going out sometime later this fall and an estimated date of completion prior to the 2021 season starting in late August.

The biggest question left about the stadium now might be not whether it will actually get built but what the Blazers will be playing on in terms of the surface. The school has reportedly expressed interest in having turf but the area trying to attract major soccer matchups could mean the venue has a grass field instead.

Either way, UAB remarkable turnaround on the gridiron took another big step this week and is poised to make a giant leap come 2021.

QB Artur Sitkowski to start for Rutgers against Boston College with McLane Carter not cleared from concussion

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Boston College’s bid to avoid losing to both Kansas and Rutgers in the same season may have received a slight boost thanks to the quarterback situation this week with the Scarlet Knights.

Speaking to the media on Thursday after practice, Rutgers head coach Chris Ash confirmed that starting signal-caller Carter McLane remains in the school’s concussion protocol and will not play on Saturday against the Eagles. That means the job falls on last year’s starter in Artur Sitkowski for the Scarlet Knights.

“(Carter) is still day-to-day (and) hasn’t practiced so he won’t be cleared to play,” Ash said according to NJ.com. “I’ve got nothing but 100 percent confidence and belief in Art. We talked all through training camp about the battle between the two. There wasn’t a whole lot of difference. The biggest one was just at the moment McLane was a fifth-year player and had a little bit more experience. But Art had a tremendous training camp, and the players, the coaches, everybody has nothing but 100 percent faith and trust in him to go out and lead the team. And we’re excited for him to do that.”

Carter, a grad transfer from Texas Tech, started the opener against UMass but was knocked out of last week’s shutout loss to Iowa after a hard hit in the first half. Sitkowski replaced him the rest of the way and will now make his first start of 2019.

A former four-star out of IMG Academy, Sitkowski was handed the reigns of the team as a true freshman last season and made 11 starts at Rutgers… with things not exactly going well under center considering he threw for just over 1,100 yards with four touchdowns against 18 interceptions. He’ll have a chance for redemption on Saturday against Boston College, which leads the ACC in interceptions but did give up a number of big passing plays in their shocking loss to Kansas last week.

Interestingly enough, the move to elevate Sitkowski in the wake of McLane’s concussion means that former Eagles quarterback Johnny Langan will now be the No. 2 QB for Rutgers in the game against his old team.

Lane Kiffin thinks UCF should be in top 10: ‘They looked just like an ACC or SEC team’

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Lane Kiffin is a believer… in a newsworthy in-state rival.

Speaking to Yahoo! Sports, the always talkative Florida Atlantic head coach threw his weight behind UCF being a top 10 team this season and even a College Football Playoff contender had they been starting veteran QB McKenzie Milton. 

“They looked just like an ACC or SEC team,” said Kiffin. “Not Alabama or Clemson, but one of the top teams in both of those conferences. They’ve done an unbelievable job recruiting. They have skill. Normally in the Group of Five they have skill players but not the [size on] the lines, well UCF has long and good-looking linemen.”

Kiffin would know having seen the Knights up close each of the past two seasons, including a 48-14 blowout by the defending AAC champions down in Boca Raton earlier in September. A former offensive coordinator in the SEC, he also got a good look at one of this season’s elite programs too considering FAU opened the year with a 45-21 loss to Ohio State in Columbus.

Though Kiffin doesn’t have a vote in the weekly Coaches Poll, he did add he’d rank UCF as high as No. 5 but certainly in the top 10, blaming the name on the front of the Knights’ jersey as much as anything for why they’re not being taken seriously nationally.