August 27, 2018
Indecision Over Meyer’s Fate Clouds NCAA Season
Kickoff of the NCAA football season is right around the corner, and one of the nation’s premier programs will be without its celebrated head coach for most of the first month of the season. Ohio State University Coach Urban Meyer continues to defend his honor even as his suspension remains in place.
The Meyer situation continues to exert significant public relations pressure on both Ohio State and the NCAA at large. Over the past few seasons, college football has benefitted from a largely scandal-free existence, even as pro football has been a hotbed of controversy. Many jilted NFL fans have given up that game and focused entirely on college ball. Now, as they look out at the impending season, they see yet another scandal and, worse, yet another group of leaders that seems undecided on exactly how to handle it.
Perpetual indecision followed by hand-wringing presents incredibly poor optics, especially in league absolutely exemplified by definitive statements. Wins and losses, scores and turnovers… everything is measured and catalogued and discussed based in concrete terms.
Meanwhile, public relations responses to dubious claims and uncertain ‘he said-she said’ controversies can be, by their nature, fluid and uncertain. But, fans don’t care about the struggles, they see a group of decision makers behind closed doors not making decisions, while, in front of the cameras, a superstar head coach retracts and retells his story. This kind of indecision coupled with obvious backside-covering PR messaging creates frustration and suspicion, not consumer confidence.
Meyer’s open letter to OSU Buckeye faithful did little to quell the frustration fans are feeling about this issue. In part, Meyer said:
“My heart is heavy today as I witness the toll that events of the past week have taken on the Buckeye Family and the university community… When I stand before the 105 young men in our football program and talk about core values and doing the right thing and respecting women, it is not lip-service…”
Meyer’s message then shifted from an attempt to connect and empathize with frustrated fans, to defending himself as a man wrongly and terribly accused for no reason, despite his personal efforts over his career. This tactic left Meyer open to a barrage of headlines and articles and social media comments digging up past scandals both at the University of Florida and OSU. If Meyer wanted to talk about legacy, fans and opinion makers were throwing that legacy right back in his face.
Meyer’s missive did repeat his admission that he “failed to communicate clearly and completely” at the Big Ten Media Day, which sparked all of this backlash, but his audience had moved on from that. They didn’t want to hear, again, how sorry Meyer was for trying to cover himself when caught off guard by a reporter’s question. They want to know if the core allegations are true or not… and what that will mean, both for OSU and the NCAA.
This decision will, in part, help to define fan connection to and impression of college football, so it’s important that OSU and the NCAA get the messaging and the optics right. Unfortunately, so far, they’re offering little to instill confidence in an increasingly disaffected fan base.