The recruiting entrance to Ohio Stadium before Ohio State’s Spring Game on April 13, 2019. Photo: Colin Gay | Former Sports Editor

As the college football season draws closer, the schedule itself is as uncertain as the outcomes of the games. 

Ohio State’s season is slated to begin Sept. 5 in a matchup with Bowling Green, but the COVID-19 pandemic has altered the college football landscape. Spring practice and recruiting have already been affected by an environment of social distancing, and the season itself will likely see its own modifications. 

Ohio State football players returned to campus Monday for voluntary workouts with strict guidelines in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Players were required to take a COVID-19 test upon return to campus and will be subject to temperature and symptom checks before each workout.  

University President Michael V. Drake announced June 3 that in-person classes at Ohio State will resume Aug. 25. The duration of in-person classes will run through Nov. 25, and the remaining days until the semester’s conclusion Dec. 4 will only involve virtual learning, Drake said. 

Drake said no decision had been made on the football season, but he hoped the season could go on with a live audience that practiced social distancing. 

While the decision on the schedule will likely be made in July, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said a look into the context surrounding Ohio State’s opponents can provide insight into the way things are trending. 

Sept. 5: Bowling Green 

Ohio State is set to open its season with an intrastate matchup with Bowling Green in an Ohio Stadium atmosphere that is yet to be determined. 

Bowling Green announced May 12 the plan to return to face-to-face classes in the fall. 

“While it is the University’s plan to resume face-to-face in the fall, BGSU would comply with any state restrictions and let science and the expertise of health officials guide its decisions,” a Bowling Green release said.

Both schools will need to operate under the same state protocols, and while Ohio has not made a decision on mass gatherings for September, Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health, extended the ban on mass gatherings of more than 10 people through July 1. 

A ban on gatherings of more than 100 people, which originally impacted stadiums and arenas, was announced March 12 by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine. 

Sept. 12: at Oregon 

The Buckeyes’ first true test of the season is currently set to take them over 2,000 miles in order to play in front of a possible scrimmage-like atmosphere. 

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said May 12 that large gatherings — including sporting events — will be unable to resume as normal without a COVID-19 vaccine or treatment in place. As a result of this declaration, the Buckeyes and Ducks are expected to play in an empty Autzen Stadium. 

Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens and Smith have had conversations surrounding the match-up and Brown’s declaration, Smith said in a teleconference with media May 20. However, Smith said he would not be in favor of flipping the home-and-home agreement with the Ducks due to it impacting future Ohio State schedules. 

“We’d probably be giving up a [home] game next year,” Smith said. “I’m not so sure I’d flip that because we wouldn’t have seven home games next year, just off the cuff.” 

Oregon has yet to make a decision on when students can return, however, it plans on having students back on campus in some capacity, according to a May 22 letter on its website.  

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott announced May 26 that Pac-12 teams will be allowed to return to campus for involuntary workouts on June 15. However, the Ducks have not yet announced when they will be opening up facilities to their student-athletes. 

Sept. 19: Buffalo 

In its final non-conference matchup of the 2020 season, Ohio State will play host to Buffalo. 

Western New York moved onto Phase Two of the four-phase reopening plan June 3, a decision that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced June 1. 

University at Buffalo President Satish K. Tripathi said May 21 in a release that a decision on the fall semester will be made mid-to-late June. In the same release, Tripathi said that the return to campus will involve a phased return and it will follow the guidelines of the state. 

The statements from Tripathi echoed an earlier sentiment. 

“We will be planning for every eventuality—from a distance education model to a residential, campus-based experience in a less dense and safe environment, to a potential full return to conventional campus operations,” Tripathi said in a release April 27. 

Sept 26: Rutgers

Ohio State opens up Big Ten play against a familiar face: former defensive coordinator Greg Schiano who is now back at Rutgers for his second stint as head coach of the Scarlet Knights. 

Schiano’s squad will have to wait until at least June 22 before returning to campus for workouts as New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order that permits outdoor sports activities to resume on that date. Despite having a possible return date in sight, Rutgers is yet to announce when it will officially allow its student-athletes back on campus for workouts. 

In terms of having students back on campus, Rutgers is looking to have students return for in-person classes, but have yet to make an official decision as to when. The university is expected to make a decision in mid-to-late June.

Students, please know that Rutgers will be prepared for whatever scenario comes, and that we will do everything we can as an institution to see you, in-person, in the fall,” Rutgers President Robert Barchi said in a letter to students May 13. 

Rutgers has also not made a decision or laid out a framework on having fans at SHI Stadium come this fall. 

Oct. 10: Iowa

Ohio State’s chance at revenge following a 55-24 loss to Iowa in 2017 may come in an October game at Ohio Stadium. 

Like Ohio State, Iowa opened its facilities to football players Monday to participate in voluntary workouts. The door was left open for student-athletes to return after the NCAA decided not to extend its moratorium on voluntary workouts which expired June 1. 

While the return of football players is a positive step toward a season, Iowa athletic director Gary Barta was realistic about projecting toward the future. 

“If anybody tells you they know the answers to all these questions surrounding football, then they are probably selling you positivity and they are mostly guessing,” Barta said May 28 in a teleconference with the media. 

Iowa reopened much of its state June 1 with outdoor performance venues, race tracks and other mass gathering locations allowed to operate at 50 percent their usual capacity. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds made the reopening announcement May 26. 

Oct. 17: at Michigan State 

The Buckeyes’ first conference battle on the road may look similar to the scene in Oregon as Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said that stadiums in the state would not be filled this fall on the “Mojo in the Morning” radio show May 12. 

However, Michigan State University President Samuel Stanley said in a June 2 interview on WKAR’s “MSU Today” that he envisions a scenario in which Spartan Stadium will be filled with a limited number of fans. 

Then the next question becomes whether we can have fans in the stands. We would be outside and that reduces risk and we can spread people 6 feet apart,” Stanley said. “Managing the entering and exiting of the stadium is one of the most difficult things to handle. The critical thing will be for all of us to wear masks.”

Whitmer also has the state’s stay-at-home order set until Friday, therefore the Spartans will not be allowed to return to East Lansing, Michigan, for voluntary workouts until after that date. This will present a challenge to new coach Mel Tucker, who served as Ohio State’s defensive backs coach from 2001-04. 

Michigan State announced Thursday that student-athletes would be allowed to return to campus Monday for voluntary workouts. 

The university has also announced plans for students to return to campus for the fall semester starting Sept. 2, according to a May 27 letter sent out to Michigan State students. 

“We can and will do this in a responsible manner that works to mitigate risk to the entire university community while preserving the high quality of an MSU education,” Stanley said in the letter. 

Oct. 24: at Penn State

Penn State football players returned to campus Monday, but a week-long quarantine will precede the June 15 start of voluntary workouts, according to a Penn State press release. 

In terms of playing the season, head coach James Franklin has supported the idea of playing the season even if every conference team is not able to return. 

“Say two or three of the schools in our conference that are ranked in the top 10 have the ability to open and a couple of schools don’t, and you make the decision to hold the entire conference back, you’re hurting the conference as a whole in terms of your ability to compete,” Franklin told ESPN in an article released May 6. 

In terms of academics, Penn State is expected to make a decision on its fall semester Monday. In a virtual town hall meeting April 19, Penn State University President Eric Barron expressed the intent to have on-campus classes in the fall but said many factors still needed to be considered. 

Penn State University is located in Centre County, which was allowed to move to the green stage of reopening May 29. In this phase of reopening, restrictions are lessened for restaurants, but large gatherings of more than 250 people are still prohibited. 

Oct. 31: Nebraska 

It has been 375 games since Nebraska last failed to sell-out Memorial Stadium, however, the looming threat of COVID-19 may keep fans out of the stadium.

There is still no plan in place for fans to attend games, and Nebraska athletic director Bill Moos said in his May interview on the “Sports Nightly” radio show that there are questions surrounding stadium operations that must be answered before they can place a number on how many fans will be allowed into Memorial Stadium. 

The Cornhuskers became the first team in the Big Ten to open their facilities to student-athletes for voluntary workouts as they opened June 1, the first day following the expiration of the NCAA’s moratorium on team activities. 

Husker athletes returned to strict guidelines — put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 — that include limited group sizes, daily symptom and temperature checks and access to only certain areas in the facilities, according to a May 29 press release. 

Nebraska also has a plan in place for students to return to Lincoln, Nebraska in the fall. In an April 24 letter sent to students, Nebraska University-System President Ted Carter confirmed that students would be on campus in the fall. A May 29 letter sent to students set the return date for in-person learning as Aug. 24.

Nov. 7: Indiana 

While Bloomington, Indiana, is just 225 miles away from Columbus, Ohio, the two universities are not following the same return strategy. 

While Ohio State’s football players returned to campus facilities Monday for voluntary workouts, Indiana’s athletes will have to wait until mid-June, according to a report released May 21 by Indiana University’s Restart Committee. 

While the Department of Athletics is taking its time, Indiana University President Michael A. McRobbie released a letter May 26 to address the academic fall semester. McRobbie said the semester will run from Aug. 24 through Dec. 20, and Nov. 20 will mark the end of in-person classes and the transition to solely online instruction. 

Stage four of Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb’s reopening plan is set to take effect Sunday, which will allow amusement parks and water parks to operate at 50 percent capacity. Large sporting events will still be prohibited according to the plan. 

Nov. 14: at Maryland 

Maryland has already taken steps for the return of college sports as live sports have already been played in the state. Laurel Park Horsetrack in Laurel, Maryland, ran live horse racing starting May 30 in front of an empty track, but it has yet to announce a plan for a return of spectators. 

As the state’s stay-at-home order ended May 15, Terrapin athletics have the greenlight from the state to return. Voluntary workouts begin June 15 for Maryland football players, however the university allowed them to return Monday for pre-participation medical screenings. 

Following in the footsteps of Rutgers, Maryland is yet to announce a formal date in which the students may return to campus. However, University of Maryland President Wallace Loh sent a letter to students May 29, outlining what a possible return to campus may look like. 

Classes will be a mix of in-person and online and Maryland will look into “de-densifying” the campus by reducing capacity in dining and residence halls, according to the letter. 

“Everyone should understand that this is a fluid environment. The re-opening of the campus this fall is subject to changing conditions and must be in compliance with federal, state, county, and [University System of Maryland] guidance,” Loh said in the letter. “So long as the pandemic continues, there will be restrictions because your health and well-being are our top priority.” 

Nov. 21: at Illinois 

Illinois football and basketball players returned to campus June 3 following the University of Illinois Division of Intercollegiate Athletics’ guidelines.

“DIA will return select student-athletes to campus according to a tightly choreographed schedule that includes robust testing and initial periods of quarantine,” the May 22 release said. “Football and men’s basketball student-athletes are scheduled to arrive first, in small groups over a series of days in early June.”

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Chancellor Robert Jones told ABC 7 Newsline May 10 that students should expect a return to campus in fall with an official decision coming in June. 

Illionis entered into phase three of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s Community Recovery Order May 29, except for Chicago which entered June 3. 

According to the order, conventions, festivals and other large events will not be allowed to return until phase five, which won’t come about until a “vaccine or highly effective treatment widely available or the elimination of any new cases over a sustained period.”

Nov. 28: Michigan 

Michigan has found itself in the center of controversy a few weeks ago over University President Mark Schlissel’s comments surrounding the possibility that athletics may not return in the fall. 

“If there is no on-campus instruction then there won’t be intercollegiate athletics, at least for Michigan,” Schlissel told the Wall Street Journal May 24. 

With still no plan in place for students to return to Ann Arbor, Michigan, in the fall, Schlissel’s comments still have the opportunity to become reality. 

Along with that, the Wolverines will run into several of the same issues as their Spartan counterparts as Whitmer’s stay-at-home order, which doesn’t expire until Friday, will keep student-athletes away from campus until at least that date. Unlike Michigan State, the Wolverines are still yet to put a plan in place for the return of student-athletes to campus for voluntary workouts. 

Whitmer’s declaration that stadiums in the state will not be filled this fall has not deterred Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, as he said in a May 20 appearance on ESPN’s “Get Up!” that he would be willing to coach in front of an empty Michigan Stadium. 

“Heck yeah I’d be comfortable coaching a game without any fans,” Harbaugh said. “If the choice were play in front of no fans or not play, then I would choose to play in front of no fans.”