The players wanted to play. The coaches wanted a season. The parents felt their kids were safe. But the Big Ten? Not so much.
In messages posted on social media, Ohio State players, coaches and parents put support behind playing the 2020 football season amidst reports that the Big Ten was nearing a cancelation of the season. Despite efforts from Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith and outcries from parents of the student-athletes, the collection of voices were not enough to sway the presidents of Big Ten universities, who voted to postpone fall sports with the possibility of playing in the spring.
“This is an incredibly sad day for our student-athletes, who have worked so hard and been so vigilant fighting against this pandemic to get this close to their season,” Smith said. “My heart aches for them and their families.”
According to Smith, both he and Ohio State President-elect Kristina M. Johnson were in favor of delaying the start of the season rather than canceling the fall season.
“We would have ultimately preferred to go to Sept. 26 or Oct. 1 for the start of the season, but the science came to us so fast, so we just had to move,” Smith said on the Big Ten Network.
The unpredictability of COVID-19 was a reason cited by Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren, who said that the uncertainty created by the pandemic was what drove the conference to cancel the season.
“There’s just a lot of issues, not only in the Big Ten, but in society that we’re trying to get answers to,” Warren said on the Big Ten Network.
In an appearance on “College Football Live” Monday, head coach Ryan Day called for the Big Ten to not rush its decision to cancel and to push back the start of the season in order to take more time to make a decision.
“There’s still issues with the season, we know, and some of it is still learning about how the virus affects young men,” Day said. “There’s still things we need to work through in terms of playing other teams, testing and those types of things but by pushing back the season we can still figure out some of those issues.”
Day also took to Twitter to share his support towards playing a season.
“Swinging as hard as we possibly can right now for these players!! This isn’t over! #FIGHT,” Day said Monday.
Since the Big Ten’s shift to a conference-only schedule July 9, Smith has emphasized that his focus is on giving the student-athletes some form of competition.
“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 July 9 on a conference call with media members. “I just want to give our kids a chance to play.”
This sentiment of getting a chance has permeated to social media with the #WeWantToPlay movement by the student-athletes.
Among the most outspoken players is graduate defensive end Jonathon Cooper, who was forced to redshirt his senior season, where he played just four games due to an ankle injury.
“Looking back at all the work I’ve put in through the years and seeing my senior year gone to injury and now seeing all of this stuff going on. Man I want a season to show everyone the player I am and have the senior year I earned and worked for,” Cooper tweeted Monday.
Faced with the prospect of potentially losing another season, Cooper encouraged his teammates to be safe and smart regarding the virus so that they could have a season.
“For me being a fifth-year senior here, all the work I’ve put in here, this is an easy sacrifice,” Cooper said in a speech following Monday’s practice. “When y’all are out there at the club, you’re not just putting yourself at risk. You’re putting the team, our coaches and my season at risk and I can’t have that.”
Fellow captain and graduate linebacker Justin Hilliard placed some criticism on the Big Ten’s leadership during this process.
“Years of work will come down to votes from Presidents and Execs who haven’t even witnessed our protocols and safety measures with their own eyes. Our guys are safe. #WeWantASeason,” Hilliard tweeted Monday.
The outcry for the season did not stop with those at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
Similar to Ohio State student-athletes uniting to release a joint statement about their comfortability and approval of how Ohio State has created a safe environment for them, the Football Parents Association at Ohio State also shared its approval of how the program was handling COVID-19.
“As parents, we strongly believe our sons want to play the upcoming season and have full trust the university and coaching staff along with medical experts have found a safe way for that to occur,” the FPAOS said in a statement released Sunday.
Thanks to protocols and guidelines in place, junior center Josh Myers said that he felt safer on campus and called for the Big Ten to allow players to have a choice in the matter.
“I just feel like if people our age can do those types of things, then I strongly feel that if I want to, I should have the choice to play a college football season,” Myers said Aug. 4 on a conference call with media members. “I feel like it’s even a safer environment being around my teammates and in the facility and staying where it’s clean and safe.”
But despite the efforts from players and other individuals, a football season still won’t be played.
In the aftermath, junior tight end Jeremy Ruckert took to social media to express his feeling that Day, Smith and staff members at Ohio State had the student-athletes’ back.
“If there’s anything certain about this time it’s that I know I chose the right school,” Ruckert tweeted.
In a video released by the Ohio State football Twitter account, Day is heard giving a speech to his players in the aftermath of the season cancelation. While expressing how proud he was in his team’s effort and sacrifice, Day said that he believed the team could play games in spring.
“You’re gonna go through a range of emotions right now, I just promise you stick together,” Day said. “Want you to know we all fought for you really, really hard. We’re gonna continue to fight for you and do everything we can, everything we can because there’s a lot of people in here with a bright future.”
With the reality of the fall sports season’s demise, Smith said that today is a sad day, but tomorrow is about renewed energy with the possibility of a spring season.
“I know there’s a lot of challenges around that. There’s a lot of issues around that,” Smith said. “But as I told our team today, I’m going to wake up tomorrow with a new vigor, with a new passion, to try and think out of the box. To think about the spring, to give them an opportunity to compete and play the game they love.”