For the second time in just over a month, the Big Ten conference delivered groundbreaking news to its members, but unlike the postponement decision Aug. 11, the news delivered Wednesday was largely optimistic.
The Big Ten announced Wednesday that it will move forward with its football season with an Oct. 23-24 weekend target for the start of the season. Increased confidence from the Big Ten medical subcommittee and rapid testing has provided a pathway forward for Ohio State and the rest of the conference, and the varying levels of leadership for Ohio State are prepared to play.
Head coach Ryan Day said that although the past month has been difficult, the team is better because of it.
“Our team is stronger right now than it was on Aug. 11 for going through this, and our young guys have seen what real leadership is,” Day said. “And now to be back on the field and play, it is an amazing feeling, but now we got to get back to work.”
Ohio State has been participating in 12-hour training weeks since the postponement decision, but athletic director Gene Smith said that a discussion will be had Thursday about increasing training to 20 hours per week.
Although Day, his players and the parents have been vocal about wanting a return of college football, it was Ohio State President Kristina M. Johnson who was tasked with voting on the decision.
Johnson said that the primary factor that allowed for the Big Ten to return was the introduction of the rapid, daily tests.
“The testing protocol, think about it as two steps. In the first step, you get rid of all the candidates that are clearly negative and then you focus on confirming any of the individuals who have been tested to see if they’re positive,” Johnson said. “So you’re doing something that’s both highly accurate in specificity and sensitivity. You can guarantee a clean playing field.”
In terms of playing nine games in nine weeks, Smith said the lack of flexibility to reschedule canceled games is not a concern because of the plan in place if a student-athlete tests positive mixed with the student-athletes being “self-policing.”
The Big Ten has established a minimum 21-day period that a student-athlete who tests positive for COVID-19 will have to remain away from game competition.
The Big Ten schedule, which will conclude Dec. 19, will allow conference teams to compete for a spot in the College Football Playoff.
In terms of how a nine-game schedule will affect the Buckeyes’ chances of making the playoff, Smith said that he thinks the playoff committee may need to rely more on performance and appearance when selecting the best four teams.
“I think it’s assumed by the committee and others that we may not have consistency in the number of games that a particular league will play,” Smith said.
Over the past week, two key Ohio State players — redshirt juniors cornerback Shaun Wade and guard Wyatt Davis — announced their intentions to opt out of the season and begin training for the upcoming NFL draft.
Day said that he has kept in contact with both players and that if they want to return to Ohio State to play out the season, they should be granted that opportunity.
“I’ve been in communication with both those guys and their families. They wanted to play, and at the time, the information that they had was that we weren’t playing the season, but now that’s changed,” Day said. “If they want to play, I believe 1000 percent they should be allowed the opportunity to play.”
Although the last few months have been uncharted territory for Ohio State and the Big Ten, Johnson has also had to deal with the transition into university president.
Johnson — who assumed the position Sept. 1 — has had an unusual start to her tenure, as she entered the role amidst a pandemic and a period of social injustice. With the pandemic, she also faced pressure from student-athletes, parents and fans on the Big Ten’s postponement of the fall sports season.
Smith praised Johnson’s ability to adapt to the situations she has faced and her effort in getting a safe return-to-play for Ohio State’s student-athletes.
“To think of a president coming into significant responsibility, and just leading Ohio State University in normal times is a significant challenge,” Smith said. “To come in at a time of a pandemic of this nature and social injustice issues that is plaguing our society and all the other issues that she inherited. To come in and deal with what we were dealing with in the athletic space is a daunting task and she’s been phenomenal.”
For Day, the last few weeks have also been a challenge for him and the team. However, he hopes that the players can take what they experienced since early August and apply it to their everyday lives.
“A life lesson that I talked to them for a long time about is, ‘Life is about ups and downs. When things go well, go enjoy it and go get all you can get, I mean enjoy it, go get it all,’” Day said. “‘But when things aren’t going very well, you just hang on and you just manage through it and you hang on and you trust the people that you’re around. Because eventually it’s gonna turn and it’s gonna start going back up.’”