In an interview on WOSU radio, the university president said that however college football deals with the aftermath of the pandemic, ’it won’t be the same as it was last year’.
Amid a coronavirus pandemic that has left hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. infected with the disease, Ohio State President Michael V. Drake said the university is preparing for the possibility that the football season will be impacted.
In an interview with Ann Fisher on WOSU radio Thursday morning, Drake identified next month as a point in which the feasibility of a season will become better known.
“We're not assuming, necessarily, that the season is going to start and be like last season was,” Drake said. “That's not at all a given. We're not also taking that there won't be a season. Something between those two wide error bars is where we're looking for planning.”
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Speculation has surrounded the fate of the college football season in recent weeks, with various officials suggesting it could be shortened, postponed or canceled as a result of the spread of COVID-19.
Spring sports were canceled last month amid the outbreak, along with the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, which brings in more than $1 billion in revenues for schools.
Drake serves as the chairman of the NCAA’s board of governors.
He said he has held daily conversations with administrators about what the football season might look like this fall, as well as the time frame.
“There will be a couple things we have to learn before we know much,” Drake said. “One, it'll have to be safe for people to come together to have stadiums full of people. We don't know when that will be. If the football season was supposed to start in July, we'd say you can't do that. We're not going to be a place in July that that would be something we could offer safely. After that, August, September, is maybe different.”
The Buckeyes are scheduled to open their season on Sept. 5 at Ohio Stadium against Bowling Green.
They have not had a football game delayed or canceled since 2001, when a nonconference game against San Diego State was postponed by a month due to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The Ohio Department of Health on Wednesday reported 5,148 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 193 deaths, across the state.
Ohio State’s football team has not practiced in a month due to the coronavirus, and the Big Ten has suspended organized team activities in all sports through May 4.
Drake suggested the school was examining a variety of contingency plans in which the football season would be impacted in some fashion.
“Whatever it is next year, it won't be the same as it was last year,” Drake said. “One scenario has it being changed in smallish ways. Security and hygiene kind of ways. On the other edge, it's not safe to do it all. In between, one could imagine different kinds of contests that could take place and are engaging and safe. I'm sure that could be created.”
When asked about holding games without fans in attendance or with a reduced capacity, Drake did not rule out the possibility.
“The excitement of the enterprise doesn't depend entirely on a stadium full of people,” Drake said. “That's one aspect of it.”
Ohio Stadium seats more than 100,000 fans, and large events and mass gatherings can contribute to the spread of COVID-19, according to the CDC.
Cases of COVID-19 in Ohio are expected to peak this month, according to the most recent projections.