The Ohio State football team was supposed to resume spring practice Tuesday morning after its spring break.
Instead, the Woody Hayes Athletic Center was empty, closed until further notice. The players are scattered around the country, with no timetable for a return.
Their lives, like everyone else’s, have been turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic. But a football season will be played, or at least that’s the expectation.
In a conference call with OSU beat reporters Friday, athletic director Gene Smith was asked whether the athletic department had been working with the idea that the 2020 season could be canceled.
"I haven’t thought that far," Smith said. "We’re dealing with today. We’re trying to adhere to the institutional policies and requests."
He said immediate tasks getting athletes out of their dorms as mandated, for example were taking precedence over anything months away.
"We’ve just got a million other things we’re thinking about," Smith said.
He said he has plenty of faith in second-year coach Ryan Day to manage the football team.
"Fortunately, Ryan's extremely talented and he's got an experienced staff," Smith said. "They'll be strong together. (Deputy athletic director) Diana Sabau and I have been in communication with him constantly, and this is still fluid. So we'll ultimately sit down with him individually and talk about strategies."
The Buckeyes had plenty of questions to sort out this spring. Kerry Coombs returned from the NFL as defensive coordinator, and meshing with the staff and players was a top priority. The defensive secondary lost three starters from last season. Master Teague III, who was expected to take over for 2,000-yard rusher J.K. Dobbins, suffered an Achilles tendon injury in the first practice of the spring, leaving the running back picture cloudy.
Those and other issues will persist without a clear resolution. The Buckeyes also can’t be in the weight room working under the laser focus of head strength coach Mickey Marotti. They believe Marotti’s firm hand in the offseason has been an essential factor in their success, not just in making players bigger and stronger, but in strengthening the bond among them because of the work they’ve put in together.
Though Marotti and his staff will give players direction, they’ll have to do the workouts on their own.
"Fortunately, we do have very mature players," Smith said. "They know how to work out on their own. They know the proper training techniques. So I think at the end of the day, we'll be able to get our guys back up on track and be competitive in the fall."
The forced hiatus has caused the cancellation of recruiting trips by coaches and on-campus visits by recruits. But that hasn’t slowed the Buckeyes’ momentum in amassing another blockbuster class for 2021.
In the past three days, Ohio State has added four commitments. The latest came Tuesday when four-star safety Andre Turrentine of Nashville, Tennessee, pledged to join the class. On Monday, Ohio State added four-star North Carolina running back Evan Pryor and three-star Cincinnati cornerback Devonta Smith. Jakailin Johnson, a four-star cornerback from St. Louis, started the flurry with his commitment Sunday.
Ohio State’s 14-player class is ranked No. 1 nationally in the 247Sports.com composite rankings. The Buckeyes are also in the running perhaps as the front-runner to land Oklahoma graduate transfer Trey Sermon, who could be a solution at running back.
So while the Buckeyes aren’t practicing and there’s much uncertainty about the future, one thing remains clear: Ohio State football never really stops, even with the doors of the Woody closed.