In a time of uncertainty, the Big Ten looked to gain some control ahead of the college football season.
After the Big Ten announced Thursday that it would be switching to a conference-only schedule, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said that the change allows for more flexibility to move games around due to possible disruptions from COVID-19.
“The biggest thing for us was the opportunity to have September and create some flexibility,” Smith said. “If we’re able to play in September and something occurs in late September or early October, we can pause. We can hit the pause button and provide a window of opportunity for student-athletes to not be put at risk.”
The decision opens up the previously scheduled dates of Sept. 5, 12 and 19 for the Buckeyes to potentially move conference match-ups, if need be. Smith also said that the Week 0 game, played on Aug. 29, would also be available for a potential game.
The first three weeks of September were originally set aside for games against Bowling Green, Oregon and Buffalo. Smith said that he talked to the athletic director of each team about the Big Ten’s decision — one which is not news to the Pac-12 and MAC conferences.
“I called the three athletic directors today — Mark [Alnutt] at Buffalo, Bob [Moosbrugger] at Bowling Green and Rob [Mullens] at Oregon — and shared with them what our announcement would be,” Smith said. “They’re all going through similar conversations in their leagues, so they were totally understanding.”
Bowling Green and Buffalo were set to make $1.2 million and $1.8 million respectively from a match-up with Ohio State.
In terms of the future of the Oregon series, which is set to have the Buckeyes host the Ducks in 2021, Smith said he didn’t know what the future held for the two schools.
When it comes to the schedule itself, there is still no concrete plan in place, as Smith said more details will come in the following weeks. However, Smith was hopeful with the prospect of a 10 game season.
“That’s a possibility, I’m hopeful that’s where we end up next week in locking that down,” Smith said. “That’s our preference, but yeah that would be a good scenario of pre-scheduling.”
With the schedule up in the air, there is concern surrounding the NCAA’s six-week practice plan, which called for at least six weeks of usual mandatory team activities before their opening game this season. With the Buckeyes originally scheduled to open the season Sept. 5, they were expected to begin team activities on July 24.
Smith expressed concern surrounding the July 24 start date and said that the Big Ten will need to make a timely decision in order to determine when the Buckeyes can begin their team activities in order to meet the six-week plan.
On a May 20 conference call with the media, Smith described himself as “cautiously optimistic” when considering the prospect of playing football. Now nearly two months closer to the potential start of the season, he did not share the same optimism.
“I am concerned that we may not be able to play which is why we took the measure that we took in order to try and have September available to us for conference games and give us the flexibility and control to handle disruptions if we’re able to start a season,” Smith said.
Smith said that his changed feelings have come from the rise of COVID-19 cases, specifically in Franklin County, since May.
“When you look at the behavior of our country and you consider that in May we were on a downward trajectory with cases, and hospitals were creating opportunities for people to come back and get the care that they needed beyond COVID and elective surgeries and things of that nature, now we are — if not the worst in the world — one of the worst in the world,” Smith said.
Along with his confidence, Smith’s focus has also shifted in the last two months.
“As I’ve learned more about the virus, I’ve shifted my priority of concern as it relates to what other leagues are doing and postseason to be quite frank,” Smith said. “I just want to give our kids a chance to play.”