Ohio State Director of Athletics Gene Smith took part in a conference call with members of the media late Friday afternoon to answer questions regarding OSU and the impact being made by COVID-19 on the athletic department. Smith took questions for about 40 minutes, ranging from impact on stadium workers to his role in getting things canceled as quickly as possible.
+ This is uncharted territory for Ohio State and the NCAA. First and foremost, all of the measures being implemented are being done to prevent a burden on the local healthcare community. “We needed to focus on that at all levels (B1G, NCAA, institutionally).”
+ This has been a pretty complicated process. There were Big Ten conversations, NCAA conversations, institutional conversations, and departmental conversations all occurring in a parallel manner. He was in Big Ten meetings on Wednesday, but his OSU team was back in Columbus having institutional and departmental meetings. “There was an unbelievable amount of communication in a short period of time to make the decisions that were made.” He drove home from Indianapolis taking part in three different conference calls.
+ There will be a financial impact, but they’ll worry about that at a later date. The university values did not include worrying about costs right now.
+ He felt on Wednesday that the conference tournament and NCAA tournament should have been canceled, so he had conversations with university presidents. Once the Big Ten was canceled, he shifted his focus to the NCAA tournament.
+ He wasn’t part of any conversations about postponing or canceling the NCAA tournament, he was just expressing his individual position.
+ He hasn’t had any face-to-face conversations with the athletes.
+ There are hurdles to giving spring athletes an extra year of eligibility. They understand that this is something they should try and do. Spring sports are two-semester sports, so how do you handle those financial impacts. How do you handle the scholarship exemptions. There’s a number of different things to consider.
+ They aren’t thinking long enough down the road to worry about the football season being impacted because there is enough going on right now.
+ This has been an exhausting time. It wears on you with so much happening while you’re trying to act on the best possible plans. The need for immediate answers has been constant, be it talking to coaches or figuring out how ticket takers will be affected.
+ Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren has great perspective on student-athlete welfare. He played and he has a son who is a student-athlete. He also has a law degree which helps him guide their discussions and keep the athletic directors focused. “It was excellent how he helped move us along to get to a consensus.”
+ Spring football practice was postponed rather than canceled because the Big Ten made the decision to suspend all organized team activities until at least April 6. Smith feels like they should have been canceled until the end of the term, but he supports this decision. They will revisit it down the road. There would be the possibility for some practices, but that will be further evaluated.
+ OSU hasn’t fully addressed how they would compensate workers who are impacted by the lack of games and students. It’s on the agenda and there are plans of some type.
+ Ryan Day is extremely talented with an experienced staff. They will eventually sit down together and talk about the reality of the situation and how to proceed. Smith was glad to see that the NCAA came out and made this a recruiting dead period.
+ He is in support of an extra semester of eligibility for the spring sport athletes. He’s wavering on the logistics of a full academic year because they may already be graduated. He has not yet looked at the winter sports. He thinks he would be in support of that as well, but hasn’t had a lot of time to think about it yet.
+ He was ready on Monday to cancel all of the tournaments because he has seen other illnesses that have had to be addressed by the NCAA. They needed to put in measures to mitigate the growth of the virus, and continuing the tournament wouldn’t have done that. “It’s just common sense to me.”
+ The hardest part of all of this is eliminating the ability for the student-athletes to compete for a championship. “You have the faces.” You know what these players have gone through. “I have all that. Those faces pop up constantly, but you’ve got to think about what’s right in our society.”
+ No spring football will impact football teams. “I haven’t really been thinking about the competitive balance or the equity.” Fortunately, this program has mature players who know how to workout on their own.
+ The coaches will continue to communicate with their student-athletes on a daily basis.
+ It’s up to the athletes’ discretion on how to work out or how many teammates to work out with, but the university won’t organize any of that.
+ This was a very different thought process than what was going on for 9/11. The situation right now is such an unknown. He was at Arizona State in 2001 when that happened, but he didn’t think about that when dealing with this current situation.
+ Those athletes who are in apartments have the option of moving back home or staying in their apartments. That’s up to them, but they won’t have access to any OSU facilities.
+ They made the choice to close the facilities because if they didn’t, they felt the normal daily activity would occur. They felt like they needed to send a message to the athletes to stay home. That’s what the university wants from all of their students. The WHAC has already been “disease bombed.”
+ The sports psychology offices are still open and the athletes know it. Just like the tutoring and Sasso staffs are still available.
+ Smith would like to see the NCAA cancel spring football right now for competitive equity reasons. “But again, I’m just one guy out here in my world.”