Plans are being put into action that will see the Ohio State football program begin working toward a return to full activity.
How well it goes or doesn’t go will inform the university when it eventually turns its eyes toward the winter sports season.
"We hope that what we learn from having football in the facility will allow us to come up with a strategy for the other sports down the road and possibly open up other facilities down the road. But we’re not going to rush it," Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said in a Wednesday teleconference. "We want to crawl before we walk and run, and football makes sense to start with."
So as football players start to make their way back to campus and participate in voluntary workouts, it stands to reason that other programs will be watching and taking notes. That includes the men’s basketball program, which brings in the second-most revenue among Ohio State’s 36 varsity sports.
The men’s basketball team is scheduled to hold a public exhibition game at Value City Arena on Nov. 5 before officially opening the season six days later. There are at least seven home games slated before Big Ten play gets underway completely in January, and the Buckeyes are scheduled to play around Thanksgiving at the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas the same week the football team is scheduled to host Michigan.
"Imagine we can’t play football, and that is because we decided that the university isn’t going to open, we won’t have classes on campus or whatever (hypothetical) takes us to that decision," Smith said. "That doesn’t mean we can’t play winter sports beginning in January, because the circumstances may be different. Students might be in school for second semester rather than the first semester."
A fluid academic calendar, or at least an altered one, is being implemented at other schools. Purdue’s trustees approved a possible new academic calendar that would begin in August and continue into late November, but not see students return for on-campus learning after Thanksgiving break. Similar plans have been announced at Notre Dame, Syracuse and South Carolina, among other schools.
"The COVID-19 virus will remain a fact of life this autumn," Purdue president Mitch Daniels said in a letter to the university community. "It is unclear what course other schools will choose, but Purdue will employ every measure we can adopt or devise to manage this challenge with maximum safety for every member of the Boilermaker family, while proceeding with the noble and essential mission for which our institution stands."
Presented on Wednesday with the possibility of students not returning to campus after Thanksgiving break, Smith said such a decision would not be his to make.
"I can’t speak to what the academic side of the house has discussed yet, but obviously we would adjust athletically to whatever parameters occur," he said. "If you had that scenario, we could probably figure out how to make it happen as long as there’s in-person classes. We could probably figure it out."
It’s not abnormal for winter sports teams to be present on an otherwise empty campus. Last year, between the Dec. 12 end of finals week and the Jan. 6 start of spring semester classes, the men’s basketball team played five games. Although revenue will almost assuredly be limited due to social distancing, the chance to generate money could also factor into the plans should football season not go off as planned.
"Some of the (winter) sports would depend on financial opportunities that are available or not," Smith said. "Basketball, you probably play because it has the opportunity to generate revenue and you can afford it."
As some schools have begun to cut sports, Smith said Ohio State is working with coaches to cut costs where possible.
"We have some cost-containment measures we’ve been discussing internally," he said. "Of course those discussions (about eliminating sports) have occurred, but we haven’t gone to that level of depth."