In a time of a global pandemic that has shut down college sports, Big Ten athletic directors hold daily conference calls to hash over pressing matters confronting the industry.


The topics stretch from compliance issues with coaches and players in isolation to the extended eligibility of spring sports athletes after their seasons were canceled because of the spread of COVID-19.


But nothing looms larger than the status of the next football season.


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Over the past week, discussions have focused on how many weeks teams might need to ramp up to play games this fall.


Speaking with reporters on a teleconference Friday morning, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith referenced a time frame that ranged from four weeks to eight weeks of preseason workouts.


"They just can't come back and play," Smith said. "Those days are gone."


Ohio State coach Ryan Day identified six weeks as the necessary time to prepare for a season during an appearance on the ESPN morning show "Get Up."


Day said additional details, including weeks set aside for conditioning versus practices in pads, could be determined over time.


His team was already left to cope with losing a majority of its spring practices, which were canceled amid the pandemic, costing players valuable offseason reps.


But Smith also framed a ramp-up period as a necessary step for preserving the "health and safety of our players."


"For them to reacclimate into a grueling, physical, competitive environment," Smith said, "to make sure we avoid muscle tissue issues, sprains and strains and tendons and ligaments and all the contusions, all those types of things that occur because you haven't been working out at the same level of intensity that we have historically prepared them."


The Buckeyes last practiced during the first week of March when they opened spring practice. Football facilities at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center have also since been closed.


Smith credited Day for consulting with Ohio State's strength and conditioning staff and team doctors, as well as Todd Berry, the executive director of the American Football Coaches Association, as they look to establish a preseason plan.


Last week, Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour told reporters teams needed about two months to prepare.


Week 1 is scheduled for Labor Day weekend, including Ohio State’s Sept. 5 opener against Bowling Green.


Smith said the Big Ten is looking in the coming weeks to establish "return-to-play" protocols for teams.


Organized team activities in all Big Ten sports are halted through May 4, when the suspension is to be reevaluated.


Other organizations that oversee college sports will have input on when practices and workouts might resume.


Later Friday, the NCAA announced it had formed a COVID-19 playing and practice seasons working group that will focus on football and communicate with the football oversight committee.


But governments and public health officials are expected to have the biggest say in permitting teams to resume play.


"Many of these decisions will be based on where the states are," Smith said. "If you look across the country, there's different dates for when gatherings can return."


Ohio’s "stay-at-home" order, which limits gatherings of more than 10 people, runs through May 1. Measures in some other states carry into June.


Amid uncertainty about the football season and the preparation required for it to be held, Smith said he was still optimistic that the fall schedule might ultimately proceed.


"I'm hopeful that we have a football season in the fall in some form or fashion," he said. "So I'm entering this return-to-play thought process with the hopes that some model will work for the fall. That might be naive on my part, but I have to believe that something's going to happen. What its going to look like, I don't know."


jkaufman@dispatch.com


@joeyrkaufman