Ohio State’s spring game was supposed to be taking place tomorrow, but it was canceled long ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic which has impacted the entire sports world.
Since then, all spring sports at Ohio State and the NCAA have been canceled, and even though the college football season is still five months away, there are mounting concerns that fall sports will be impacted as well.
Various models for the season’s start or delay have been written and talked about in the media, but in speaking with reporters on Friday, Ohio State director of athletics Gene Smith said discussions regarding models is premature because right now the focus is on deciding exactly how much time a football team needs to be ready to actually play in a game.
“Is that eight weeks, six weeks, a four-week schedule for them to re-acclimate into a grueling, physical, competitive environment, to make sure we avoid muscle tissue issues, sprains and strains, and tendons and ligaments, and all those contusions,” Smith asked. “All those types of things that occur because you haven’t been working out at the same level of intensity that we have historically prepared them. So they just can’t come back and play. Those days are gone. So we really haven’t begun to talk about models. I know everybody’s doing that, but we’ve been focused on [how long it takes to get ready for the season].”
Basically, before there is any point in discussing the various models, they first need to come to a consensus on the fall camp ramp-up and how long the return to play needs to be.
Head coaches around the country are having these discussions, as are the athletic directors and commissioners. The NCAA has also put together an advisory panel to determine an acceptable time frame. Once that timeline has been agreed upon, the next step can take place regarding models.
“Now that determination, that schedule, that timeline, will allow us to move in a different way and look at models for the season,” Smith said. “The other thing is this is a collective decision around the country. There has to be a national issue resolved for this. So we have athletic directors, conference commissioners, American Football Coaches Association, the NCAA committee on competitive safeguards, and medical aspects of sports, and football oversight committee. There’s an NCAA COVID-19 advisory panel. So all of these entities have to collaborate to get to a point where we can even think about what would be the right model for the season after we determine what the return to play model is.”
Ohio State football head coach Ryan Day recently took part in a Big Ten coaches’ call. Before the call he had already spoken with the AFCA director, medical personnel, and OSU’s strength staff and put together some ideas and considerations for the season to come.
“I think the starting point as coaches sounds like about six weeks,” Day said Friday morning on ESPN’s Get Up morning show. “Whether it’s more or less, that’s what we have to work through. When are we allowed to put pads on? How much time do we need leading up to putting pads on and actually practicing? I think six weeks is a good starting point to start the conversation, and as time goes on we need to clean all that up.”
There is also the fact that states have been put in various stages of “stay at home” rules and will eventually have those rules lifted in staggered stages as well. This has become one of the major talking about among the coaches, which is another reason why the NCAA has formed a working group for fall sports, and specifically football.
“One of the major challenges we have is the group gathering restrictions and things that are going on are going to be very different from state to state. The NCAA is really working hard now to combine groups together to come up with a plan,” Day said.
“As time goes on with so many unknowns here, we have a lot of smart people in this country, a lot of smart people in the NCAA, and a lot of smart college coaches. If we just keep communicating we’ll come up with great solutions as time goes on.”
One of the possible solutions presented has been the thought of playing without fans in the stadium. Smith had apprehension about that because his concern is that if it’s not safe for fans, why would it be safe for the players? He added that he would need to speak with more people to learn his blindspot on the matter, acknowledging that it’s much easier to monitor the athletes than the fans.
When asked about playing without fans in the stands, Day thought it would be better than nothing.
“We need to look at everything, because I think any football is better than no football,” he said. “But there’s so much that’s going to change in the future here. When you think about where we’re at now from March 10, we’re at a much different place than we were.”
Before those discussions get any deeper, however, Day’s focus is the same as the athletic directors and commissioners and the NCAA.
“The focus in my opinion should be on return to play, and how long do we need to get a team ready to play,” he said. “Once the medical authorities give us the green light on where to go with this thing, we’ll push forward on that.”