Their tickets put them in seats at the 10-yard line in the upper deck of Ohio Stadium.
For a decade, this has been the perch for Ashley and Matt Baker, a sight for them to witness some of Ohio State’s biggest wins during a prolific stretch that began under Urban Meyer and continued with the coaching transition to Ryan Day.
Now they face a dilemma of whether to renew their season tickets.
Amid a coronavirus pandemic that has shut down the world of sports and clouded the status of the 2020 college football season, do they plop down $1,404 for a pair of seats in section 26C?
Ohio State officials have told fans they will issue full refunds if games are canceled, but other issues give the Bakers pause ahead of a renewal deadline that arrives Thursday.
"That’s still a lot of money to tie up," Ashley said. "How quickly would the refund come if they’re not going to play?"
Like hundreds of thousands across the state, the Dublin couple has felt the economic toll of the pandemic. Ashley works as a substitute teacher, but school buildings in Ohio are closed for the rest of the school year. Matt, an analyst for the Express Brands apparel company, has been furloughed.
The circumstances have prompted them to wait until it is closer to the renewal deadline before going ahead with season tickets, a step they said they will take.
But even among a rabid Ohio State fan base that fills one of the largest stadiums in college football, there is hesitance.
The renewal rate for season tickets was 77% through Wednesday, according to figures provided by the school in response to a public records request from The Dispatch.
Last season, OSU boasted 50,868 nonstudent season tickets. But eight days ahead of the renewal deadline for next season, more than 10,000 season tickets had not been renewed.
The renewal deadline originally had been set for March 27 before it was extended, a step taken most by schools across the country, including Big Ten counterparts such as Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin. The month-long extension has allowed Ohio State to sell nearly 4,000 season tickets in that span.
Meanwhile, season-ticket holders must also consider the fate of annual donations that are made on top of the cost of their seats.
In order to be eligible to buy season tickets, fans are required to first give money to the Buckeye Club or the President’s Club, the school’s two primary booster groups, according to a ticket information guide on the Buckeye Club’s website.
But OSU has yet to determine if possible refunds due to a canceled season might include those donations in addition to the cost of the season tickets. A spokesman said the school was still working out a policy for potential refunds surrounding the "qualifying payments."
The Bakers donate $250 each year to belong to the Buckeye Club, a contribution that is lower than most season-ticket holders since Ashley is a former varsity letterwinner. She rowed for the Buckeyes from 2001-04.
But she imagined this might be a sticking point for some season-ticket holders.
Other membership levels in the Buckeye Club require annual giving that ranges from $750 to $25,000. In certain cases, the donations are more than the cost of the tickets.
"Is their $5,000 donation coming back to them? Is it just a credit for next year? Or is this just a donation, and for 2021 you have to make another donation?" Ashley wondered. "I could see all three scenarios unfolding."
Donations already were impacted by a 2017 tax law that no longer allows them to qualify as deductions on tax returns.
Ashley acknowledges the difficult state of affairs for Ohio State’s athletic department, which is forced to navigate the fallout from a pandemic expected to create unprecedented challenges for the college sports industry.
The millions of dollars raised by OSU through football donations go toward the athletic department’s general scholarship fund, which is set aside for tuition costs of athletes in all 36 varsity sports, including the women’s rowing team she joined nearly two decades ago.
When Ashley was a freshman, the team faced a minor budget crunch amid an economic downturn that followed the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. One of their races was canceled, she recalled.
But though a majority of Ohio State’s season-ticket holders have opted to renew their seats, many of them did so before the coronavirus impacted their daily lives.
The ticket office sent out renewal notices in February, before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention first warned of the outbreak’s pending disruption and weeks before every event on the sporting calendar was either canceled or postponed.
For many longtime fans, the instinct was to re-up. Dan Lease, who renewed his four seats in Ohio Stadium’s Huntington Club, has purchased season tickets for more than 45 years.
"I don't know that I could imagine a Saturday in the fall without Ohio State football," said Lease, who lives in Fremont for part of the year.
As long as confirmed cases of COVID-19 decline, some remained hopeful the season would begin when the Buckeyes are scheduled to open against Bowling Green on Sept. 5.
Sue Sutton and her husband, Al, renewed their upper-deck seats with "no hesitation whatsoever."
The suburban Cleveland couple has bought season tickets for 40 years, and trips to the Horseshoe have long been a part of their fall afternoons. They first met at a game in 1976 as students when Al approached her with a glass of Coca-Cola.
Several fans also mentioned that renewing season tickets allows them to keep their preferred seats.
If the season begins Labor Day weekend, further decisions about attending the games loom. Season-ticket holders anticipate various changes that might surround the game-day experience.
They wondered about limited tailgating outside the Horseshoe. They mentioned possible measures inside the stadium for fans’ safety, including temperature checks, mask wearing and stations for hand sanitizing and washing.
Ohio State President Michael V. Drake has mentioned that the upcoming season "won't be the same as it was last year," forecasting changes that could include hygiene protocols.
Among more than a half-dozen season-ticket holders who spoke with The Dispatch, all of them mentioned they planned to attend games if allowed by school and public health officials.
That included Lease, who acknowledged he was at a higher risk of illness due to his age. He is 72.
"I guess my feeling is if they can think we can be in the stadium, then I want to be in the stadium," Lease said.
Others said they would be hesitant to take elderly family or friends. In the age of the coronavirus, the decision over whether to attend a football game will be no small matter.
Ashley and Matt Baker considered going to the Big Ten men’s ice hockey tournament last month. They had tickets for the semifinals, where Ohio State was to meet Michigan.
Before they could decide if they were comfortable attending, however, the tournament was canceled.
Ultimately, that event likely would draw only a few thousand fans to Nationwide Arena, a fraction of the 100,000 who descend on the banks of the Olentangy River in the fall.