Ohio State reopened the Woody Hayes Athletic Center earlier this week for limited use by about two dozen members of its football staff.
Players are expected to soon follow.
The school plans to allow players to use athletic facilities on campus for individual or voluntary workouts on June 8 for the first time since they were closed in March due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
During a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, athletic director Gene Smith said the move is intended to offer them a healthy environment for training at a time when other gyms and fitness centers reopen throughout the state.
"We feel that the facilities we have, with the protocols that we can put in place, is the best-protected environment," Smith said. "Obviously there’s a lot of health clubs and workout places and spas that would do an excellent job, but some of our young people are not in environments where they have access to those best facilities.
"So we want to provide them the opportunity to have access to the state-of-the-art equipment that we have, but also our medical people, our trainers. We want to continue to make sure that they’re in the safest environment possible. That’s what we feel we can provide."
The step hinged on a vote by the NCAA’s Division I council, which was considering lifting a moratorium on on-campus activities that expired at the end of the month.
USA Today reported later Wednesday that the council approved voluntary activities in three sports: football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball, clearing the way for the Buckeyes’ football players to return.
Smith noted the athletic department also needed to comply with the university’s transition plan. In-person events at OSU remain canceled through July 6 with nonessential employees asked to continue working remotely and only "a limited number of essential academic and clinical operations" allowed to resume.
When players report to the Woody Hayes Athletic Center or the adjacent Schumaker Complex, the two athletic facilities that will reopen, they will submit to screenings that include temperature checks and symptom assessments.
Smith said they will not, however, be tested for COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.
"It hasn’t been a directive that we have to do that, so we’ll wait for our medical experts to give us some guidance on that," Smith said, when asked about the prospect of testing.
Similar health and safety protocols were implemented when coaches returned to the facility on Monday.
Since Gov. Mike DeWine lifted the 14-day quarantine mandate for those traveling to Ohio, Smith said players who return to campus from out of the state were not required to self-isolate for two weeks, but mentioned that some might elect to do so voluntarily.
"It depends on their individual circumstance," Smith said. "Someone may have a condition that requires them to quarantine for a period of time. It just depends on what their physical shares with our doctors."
The scope of workouts at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center will still be limited by state regulations, which include gatherings of 10 or more people that remain prohibited.
Smith forecast a scenario in which nine or 10 players would be allowed to enter the building at one time to use the weight room and other training facilities, including the indoor practice field.
"They’ll disappear, the room is cleaned, and then another group will come in," Smith said. "They’ll work out, then the room is cleaned."
The schedule would allow about 50 football players to use the two mammoth complexes each day.
On its own, the Woody Hayes Athletic Center features 13,000 square feet of strength and conditioning equipment and an elevated 1,800-foot cardio fitness area.
Guidelines released by the NCAA this month have advised schools to reacclimate players back on to campus through a series of smaller groups. The prospect of fewer than 10 players working out together is part of the college sports governing body’s Phase I plan.
It was not mentioned if the workouts would include footballs or if throwing sessions might be permitted, a step that Dr. Brian Hainline, the NCAA’s chief medical officer, has urged caution.
When asked about the protocols that were in place should a player happen to test positive for COVID-19, Smith said decisions would be deferred to the department’s medical staff and team doctors.
"We feel pretty confident that through our symptom checks and hygiene implementation that we should be fine," Smith said. "If someone gets sick, we turn to our medical staff, and they’ll give us guidance on what to do next. It may be that they decide we should shut it down. So it depends. We have to rely on them and go from there."