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The buck never stops with Ohio State’s Urban Meyer — it just sort of disappears

Urban Meyer at Big Ten Media Days. (AP/Annie Rice)

It’s impossible not to keep coming back to one thing. To one bleak, laughable, infuriating thing. It’s not conjecture; it’s a fact.

If not for the intrepid reporting led by college football journalist Brett McMurphy, if not for the scrutiny heaped on Ohio State coach Urban Meyer and the school over the last month — and if an all-powerful coach and a feckless OSU administration were left to their own devices — Zach Smith would still be on the staff of the Buckeyes.

Smith, the wide receivers coach and ace recruiter, who was arrested multiple times while working under Meyer at Florida and in Columbus, including for DUI.

Smith, who had a long-term habit of being late for work and occasionally not showing up at all.

Smith, who reportedly went to rehab for substance abuse —at Meyer’s urging — but blew it off halfway through.

Smith, who made it rain at the strip club and treated the Buckeyes football offices (and, apparently, the White House) as a sexual playpen.

Oh, yeah — and Smith, who allegedly beat, harassed and terrified Courtney Smith over the course of nearly a decade, first while the couple were married and later after their divorce.

Former Buckeyes coach Earle Bruce’s grandson allegedly did all that, and all on Meyer’s watch. Yet, an Ohio State investigation led to a toothless three-game suspension of an all-time-great coach of a football superpower who clearly knew enough about Smith’s misconduct to do far more to stop it. (Athletic director Gene Smith, who is not related to Zach Smith, received a similar suspension.)

What comes first at Ohio State? Winning at football. Everything else is fighting for second place.

Wade into the official 23-page report on the school’s investigation, which has been made public, if you care to, but here are a few takeaways in case you prefer to just sit back and get offended:

1. OSU concluded that Meyer wasn’t truthful at last month’s Big Ten Media Days in Chicago when he stated during a press conference that he was completely unaware of 2015 allegations of domestic violence against Smith.

“I was never told anything. Never anything came to light. I’ve never had a conversation about it. So I know nothing about that,” Meyer said at the downtown Marriott.

His own AD and his director of football operations, Brian Voltolini, told investigators that Meyer had been in the loop. Which — hello — McMurphy’s reporting had made plenty clear already.

2. Meyer told investigators that, in 2009 at Florida, he’d met with both Zach and Courtney Smith after an alleged domestic-violence incident and been able to determine that no such incident had occurred.

The investigation, though, found that Meyer likely met with only his assistant coach — and that Courtney Smith never had stepped back at all from her side of the story. Yet numerous people in positions of influence met with the wife and, she says, discouraged her from moving forward.

Broom, meet rug.

3. Meyer’s wife, Shelley, was well-informed about the trouble between the Smiths. Texts between the women reveal this, with Shelley Meyer writing in one of them, “I know the truth.” Yet, the investigation paints Urban Meyer as being unaware.

And this is even harder to square: a review of Meyer’s phone revealed no text messages older than one year, with Voltolini admitting that he’d discussed with Meyer — in the immediate wake of a McMurphy report — how to adjust the settings on the coach’s phone so texts older than a year would be deleted.

How does Meyer still have a job? Consider this dilly of a conclusion from the investigation:

“We also learned [that] Coach Meyer has sometimes had significant memory issues in other situations where he had prior extensive knowledge of events.”

See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. Short of that, forget everything you can.

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Meanwhile — let’s face it — these are pretty dark days around the Big Ten.

Maryland coach D.J. Durkin remains on administrative leave amid investigations into his role in the team workout that resulted in the death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair. Has Durkin created a toxic environment in his program?

Wisconsin wideout Quintez Cephus was indefinitely suspended this week after being charged with felony sexual assault. Cephus’ roommate, fellow receiver Danny Davis, has been suspended for two games. The Badgers join the Buckeyes as league favorites this season, each team bringing its share of ugliness to the title race.

But Ohio State, by virtue of its pre-eminence on the field and the unmatched zealousness of its fans, stands apart. Year in and out, the Buckeyes are the most talented team in the league. Year in and out, Meyer looms above all other league coaches, a three-time national champion who many would say is every bit as formidable as the gold standard Alabama’s Nick Saban.

Has the buck ever stopped with Meyer? Certainly not since he became a kingpin of the sport. No, the buck seemingly just falls to the street and evaporates. Or floats into the nearest sewer.