There's a Playoff ripple effect to the Ohio State drama that's not being discussed
The magnitude of what’s unfolding at Ohio State can’t be overstated.
The impact that the pending investigation into Urban Meyer’s handling of domestic abuse allegations against former Ohio State assistant Zach Smith is nationwide.
Each of the following storylines have been obvious national headlines:
- Whether Urban Meyer will be fired
- Potential candidates to replace Urban Meyer if he’s fired
- How an Urban Meyer-less Buckeyes program will impact the Big Ten
- The similarities and differences of Ohio State’s current situation to Jim Tressel’s
- Could Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith be the fall guy following Urban Meyer’s statement?
It’s understandable why those topics and others would warrant healthy discussion. Those are the big-picture questions that are worth fleshing out.
That last bullet that I mentioned about “could Ohio State A.D. Gene Smith be the fall guy” is the storyline that needs to be examined closer. In less than 14 days, we’ll get a “yes” or “no” answer to that question. If it’s “yes” and Smith is indeed the fall guy, there’s another bullet point that needs to be added to the list of national storylines:
- What happens to Smith’s status on the Playoff selection committee if he’s fired at Ohio State?
Smith holds one of the 13 most powerful positions in college football. If Ohio State’s investigation concludes that Meyer did indeed follow proper Title IX protocol and it’s Smith who’s at fault for keeping the ex-assistant on staff, that position will be in serious jeopardy.
This would be somewhat uncharted territory for the selection committee. If Smith is let go, he wouldn’t be the first person to get fired as an A.D. while serving on the selection committee.
Last year, Arkansas fired athletic director Jeff Long in mid-November. But Long, who had been a member of the selection committee since its inception, agreed to finish out his term. After all, 4-win Arkansas was nowhere near the Playoff. Long was also in the final season of his term on the selection committee.
Needless to say, that’s different than if Smith is fired at Ohio State.
The selection committee would be forced to address the elephant in the room. Could it elect to remove Smith for something that happened at Ohio State? There’s no rule stating that a selection committee member is forced to step down in the event that he or she is fired. Long didn’t.
The selection committee’s hope would have to be that Smith would resign because it would create a different kind of conflict of interest. It’s one thing to have standing athletic directors on the selection committee. There are five ADs this year, one from each Power 5 conference. It hasn’t been an issue yet because members must leave the room when a school they’re associated with is being discussed. And really, there haven’t been many down-to-the-wire debates involving a school that a selection committee member was associated with.
Keep in mind that last year was Smith’s first on the selection committee and it was the first time in the Playoff era that Ohio State didn’t get the benefit of the doubt in a borderline situation.
But can you picture how awkward that would be if Smith stayed after getting fired at Ohio State? The selection committee never dealt with a bitter ex after a breakup before. There’s no obviously guarantee that he’d develop some vendetta against Ohio State, but you never know when active egos are at play. That wound is still fresh.
There’s another wrinkle to this. While nobody is keeping out an undefeated Ohio State team, the selection committee could decide it doesn’t want to reward Smith’s Buckeyes if he’s considered the one who allowed the Zach Smith debacle to happen. You just never know.
At the very least, Smith’s standing with the selection committee would have to be seriously evaluated if he was fired at Ohio State.
Let’s say that Smith is fired as Ohio State’s AD and he chooses to step down from the selection committee. He’s the only Big Ten representative of the group. There’s always been either Smith, Lloyd Carr, Tom Osborne or Barry Alvarez among the Big Ten representatives. If Smith’s replacement doesn’t have any Big Ten association, it might not be a big deal, but it probably doesn’t help the conference following its first year of missing the Playoff.
We’re talking about 13 people deciding who gets to play for a national championship. Smith’s role as one of those people is important, even though for the time being it’s on the back burner while this investigation unfolds.
But if Smith does wind up being the fall guy at Ohio State, his selection committee status will be a burning question that needs to be tended to.