NCAA Meyered in hypocrisy

Who knows if it was a reaction to Ohio State furiously slapping Urban Meyer on the wrist with several Q-tips, but LSU sure got some good news in the wake of the Buckeyes’ joke of a decision.

I wouldn’t doubt it was a mitigating factor after Meyer got a mere three-game suspension for the way he (mis)handled and tried to cover up the numerous domestic violence accusations against assistant coach Zach Smith.

After that, it would have been hard for the NCAA to look LSU cornerback Kristian Fulton in the face.

Or maybe it was just a coincidence, like so much of the Ohio State’s reasoning with Meyer.

But with Meyer walking away with barely a bruise, suddenly Fulton’s case had to look a whole lot different to the NCAA.

Without warning, really — it shocked head coach Ed Orgeron — the NCAA announced Thursday that Fulton was immediately eligible to play with the second year of his two-year suspension lifted.

Maybe the NCAA had no choice.

But it was refreshing, in a way. Does it mean that all of a sudden the NCAA is going to hold its athletes to similar standards with the same benefis of a doubt that its big-name coaches get?

Regardless, Fulton is cleared to play, at least a month later than his suspension should have been lifted after a second appeal, but still in time for next week’s season opener against Miami.

Mainly, he can get on with his life, which by all accounts may well include a profitable NFL career now that the NCAA will let him prove it on the field.

It says something about Fulton’s patience that LSU didn’t have to track him down — he was at practice Thursday when the good word arrived, though at the time he thought he was looking at another year of scout-team duty. 

LSU’s line is that the school used a different tact in a second appeal less than a month after an NCAA committee denied the orginal as flippantly as a parent shooing the kids away from the candy rack at the grocery store checkout line.

But maybe it looked different after Meyer kept his job. 

You know Meyer’s deal. You remember Fulton’s case.

He’d already served one year after being suspended by the NCAA for two years for tampering with a drug test.

Never mind the extenuating circumstances — Fulton passed the test immediately after he was caught trying to substitute someone else’s urine sample for his own.

But it didn’t matter. It was the intent, the NCAA rules state, and tampering with a drug test is a two-year suspension (if he’d just failed the blasted thing — which he didn’t — it would be just the one year).

Maybe it was just convenient timing that Fulton’s reprieve came a day after Meyer got off all but clean as a whistle. 

But after the Meyer ruling, the NCAA would have had to explain the difference in what Fulton did with the drug test and what Meyer did with his cellphone.

One of the key points in the “what did he know and when did he know it?” saga was the news report — with copies of texts — that his wife Shelley had had frequent contact with Courtney Smith while she was suffering the alleged abuse and that Shelley told the woman she would inform her husband about it.

Urban Meyer said his wife never told him.

But when Meyer learned of the news article about his wife’s communication with the victim, the investigation revealed, he immediately began seeking advice on how to wipe out text messages on his own phone that were more than a year old.

The investigation couldn’t be sure he was hiding incriminating evidence any more than drug testers could be sure that a fake drug test was hiding performance enhancing drugs in the real sample. Yet, by the time he turned his cellphone over to investigators — guess what? — voilà, there were no text messages on it more than a year old. 

Probably just a coincidence.

We’ll never know what those missing texts read. But we know what happened when Fulton did take the drug test legitimately. 

If only former Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze had known about that cellphone feature when he was chatting up call girls.

Meyer apparently is too important for Ohio State football to lose as, even while prone to scattered outbreaks of amnesia with soap opera regularity, he’s entrusted to run the cash cow of a $100-million-plus sports operation. Fulton was just another cog in the cheap labor that fuels the NCAA money spigot.

Wake-up call? Maybe the NCAA will suddenly have start holding players to the same (loose) standards that it holds its mega-star coaches.

Maybe the NCAA finally decided that a scared kid like Fulton should get the same break that a full-grown multi-millionaire adult gets.

Of course, Ohio State was willing to give Meyer an almost-free pass because the coach apparently was under the impression that he wasn’t required to report what he knew about the Smith case unless law enforcement got involved (which isn’t the case). The OSU board was agreeable to writing that off as a “misunderstanding.”

Funny, but until Thursday, at least, ignorance of the policies he ran afoul of was no excuse for Fulton. His whole nightmare began because he got some bad advice from older teammates, who told him his test would be looking for marijuana (it wasn’t; it was for PEDs).

Whether Fulton rode in on Meyer’s coattails, we’ll never know. But it was about the first good news LSU has had in a way-too eventful August.

But, if nothing else, Meyer’s survival tactics opened up a whole new can of possibilities for explanations the next time a kid is pleading his case before the NCAA.

My guess is that there will be a long line of suspended kids waiting outside the door of the NCAA’s Indianapolis offices starting this morning.


Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at shobbs@americanpress.com

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