Urban Meyer serving as Ohio State’s new Assistant Athletics Director for Athletics Initiatives and Relations is a good idea.
Urban Meyer being a game and/or studio analyst for FOX’s television coverage of college football is a good idea.
Urban Meyer being both an assistant athletic director for Ohio State and a college football analyst for FOX is a bad idea; for Meyer, for OSU, and for FOX.
Just in case it wasn’t clear from my first point above, I am not talking about any perceived moral or ethical reasons that Meyer shouldn’t be working for the university’s athletic department (I have some reservations about him teaching a graduate-level course on leadership at the Fisher College of Business, but honestly I don’t care enough about that be too worked up over it).
Instead, my concern is that the diametrically opposed jobs that Meyer will be juggling in the fall will inevitably cause problems for one of his employers, and, more than likely, both. It will be the textbook example of a conflict of interest, and one that truly benefits no one. In my mind, it is a lose-lose for everyone, except for maybe Meyer’s agent(s).
Now, both FOX and Ohio State are certainly aware of the inevitable problems — and clearly they don’t seem to be too worried... at least not yet. However, if Meyer moves forward with both jobs as we expect him to, I think that things could become uncomfortable, and could actually have a negative impact on Ohio State’s football team.
Think about it this way, after he coached his final game, Barry Alvarez — the most beloved and decorated coach in Wisconsin football program history — walked off of the sideline at the 2006 Citrus Bowl and into the athletic director’s office in Madison full-time. Imagine that in the fall of ‘06, he also took a part-time gig next to Rece Davis, Lou Holtz, and Mark May on ESPN’s college football studio show (better yet, just imagine that he replaced May).
Would you have taken any praise that he heaped on the Badgers seriously? Not likely. I probably would have dismissed it as a former coach and current administrator making biased comments to benefit his program and former players. And that’s Barry Alvarez. Not even on his worst day has Alvarez ever been despised nationally even one-tenth of much as Meyer is. This will just feed the narrative of Meyer being selfish, and untrustworthy.
I know that there is a large population of the Ohio State fanbase (and really all fanbases) that thinks ESPN, FOX, CBS, etc. has a bias against their team. And, while I’m not going to litigate that point here, wouldn’t FOX employing a high-level OSU athletic department administrator in a role that should be providing unbiased commentary look a little fishy? Especially when another former Buckeye (Robert Smith) — one who isn’t shy about repping his Scarlet and Gray bona fides — will likely still be on the network’s coverage.
When the cries of bias arise — which they certainly will — FOX, OSU, and Meyer will almost certainly ignore them; as they should. But, when people accuse ESPN of bias, it is often based on the contracts that the worldwide leader has with various conferences (including the Big Ten) and the presumed way that those financial arrangements trickle down to their on-air talent or coverage.
However, when it comes to Meyer and Ohio State, there would be no presumption; there would be no trickling down. Meyer will be cashing $100,000 worth of checks signed by Gene Smith, Michael Drake, and/or Brutus Buckeye in 2019. You won’t need a tinfoil hat to see the financial connection between any praise he bestows on the Buckeyes and his bottom line.
Now, that’s not to say that Meyer would be influenced to color his comments on OSU whatsoever. He very well might be completely unbiased in his analysis, and every nice thing that he says about his former team could be completely warranted. But, do you think that’s going to prevent fans of Michigan, Penn State, Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, etc. from making a big stink about it? Of course not.
And while they might brush it aside — at least at first — why would FOX want to invite these types of criticisms of the integrity of their coverage, especially while they are trying to transition into more live sports (as well as reality shows) as they go through the Disney purchase of their former parent company 21st Century Fox? It doesn’t help FOX, and it very well could hurt Ohio State.
Now, I don’t want to presume too much about how these types of narratives could influence the Buckeyes, as I think this is generally the timeline that hurts the network the most, but it’s not the largest leap to think that this could be spun negatively in recruiting.
However, how this arrangement could end up hurting the Ohio State Buckeyes’ football team the most is if Meyer expresses concerns (even if they are valid) about his former team, and his apparently handpicked replacement Ryan Day.
Most of the time when a college football coach gets into broadcasting, two things are true. 1) He was recently fired. 2) He wants to coach again, and as soon as possible.
Meyer is the rare example of a college football coach who has left a high-profile position (seemingly) completely voluntarily. While there are many out there that expect Meyer to be coaching Notre Dame or USC in two to three years’ time, I take the man at his word that the health concerns that he’s experienced in recent years have indeed ended his coaching career. I could very well be wrong — and that would be fine — but for now, I choose to operate under the assumption that Meyer is done coaching.
So, unlike Meyer, most former coaches come to the broadcasting gig as a way to make some cash and keep in the public eye until another school hires them. So, they rarely say anything of actual substance on TV, especially when it comes to criticizing a team, let alone the one that they used to coach.
But, let’s imagine a world in which Justin Fields is not made immediately eligible to play for Ohio State, and thanks to Tate Martell’s transfer to Miami, the Buckeyes are forced to start redshirt freshman Matthew Baldwin, who hasn’t taken a competitive snap since injuring his knee in the 2017 Texas high school playoffs.
While I actually believe that Baldwin has the potential to be a very good quarterback in Day’s system, what if he goes through the normal bumps that any freshman starting for a major program goes through? What if the team goes through the normal bumps that a program does in the first year following the departure of a legendary coach?
Will Meyer remain positive? Will he criticize the players that he recruited? Will he come down hard on Day for allowing Martell (whom Meyer has clearly loved since he stepped on campus) to transfer? Who knows? But if he does, can you imagine how awkward it would be when he walks into his office the following Monday? Or, if he decides to swing by the Woody and watch practice on Tuesday?
Since his retirement was announced, many players — current and former — have spoken of Meyer as a father-figure. Imagine finishing a physically and emotionally draining football game that you lost to a team that didn’t have nearly the same level of talent that your team did, and then you come home, turn on the TV and see your former coach/father-figure blasting you and your new coach. How does that make you feel?
I certainly don’t expect Meyer to go all Howard Beale on the Buckeyes, but athletes, especially college athletes, hear everything, and I could imagine how painful even the most mundane of criticisms could be from Meyer for his former players.
That’s not to mention how Meyer’s statements could impact his colleagues in the department. I would think that Smith and Drake would eventually question what they were paying him six figures to go on TV and hurt the chances of the football team making the College Football Playoff.
Again, will this do any major damage to the Ohio State athletic department — one of the most impressive operations in all of intercollegiate athletics? Probably not, but it could create small problems, and the more that small problems mount up, the bigger they eventually become.
On the other hand, some believe that Meyer’s high-profile position on FOX will somehow be a recruiting advantage for Day and the Buckeyes. While Meyer will undoubtedly be a bigger name than any Buckeyes in the sports media save perhaps Kirk Herbstreit and Cris Carter, will his addition really make that big of an impact on the trail when you’ve already got Herbie, C.C., Smith, Joey Galloway, Chris Spielman, Bobby Carpenter, Glen Mason, James Laurinaitis, A.J. Hawk, Ben Hartsock, and more in major, national football analyst roles? I somehow doubt it.
Now, Urban Meyer obviously doesn’t need me to give him advice, so I’ll let him make his own decision. But, for me — a lifelong Buckeye and an OSU alum — I would love to see Meyer reconsider his position with FOX, and stick with his athletic department position at Ohio State.
For all of the wins, B1G titles, and the 7-0 record against Michigan, aside from the 2014 National Championship (and even that’s debatable), the single greatest thing that Meyer did in Columbus, in my opinion, was the Real Life Wednesday program and everything that goes with it.
This focus on players’ lives post-football has truly been a revolutionizing force for the program (and a recruiting boon), and hopefully for the sport in general. Anytime college football can focus on the players as human beings and not the vessels for winning games and making billions of dollars, that is a positive in my book.
So, if in addition to the fundraising and community relations responsibilities that Meyer’s new job with the athletic department entails, if he can help other programs on campus develop their own versions of Real Life Wednesdays, then I think that is what he should do.
I say this in all seriousness, fully aware of how ridiculous it sounds given the historic number of wins that he has in his career, but I sincerely hope that Meyer’s legacy — at Ohio State, and in college sports in general — is centered on the impact of what he did (and does in the future) for players off of their respective fields, courts, mats, diamonds, etc.
For all of the good that Meyer has done (and hopefully will continue to do) at Ohio State, I would hate to see that derailed by unnecessary, self-inflicted wounds centered around on-air conflicts of interest.