Perhaps the most revealing answer of Ryan Day’s availability with reporters on Wednesday began with the Ohio State football coach saying, "I don’t know."
There are plenty of I-don’t-knows involving college football in general and Ohio State specifically after the Big Ten decided on Tuesday to not hold fall sports. Day is still sifting through his emotions and ideas of how to move forward.
The most pressing is to mourn the loss of a season and fight to get back into action as soon as possible early next year or perhaps in some form before that.
If the coronavirus pandemic means that the 2020 Buckeyes team never takes the field, well, Day didn’t even want to ponder that.
"I don’t know," he said in a conference call Wednesday. "I’ll get emotional if I start thinking about it. What I said to the team is the truth. As a player, you work your whole life, and as a coach, you work your whole life for an opportunity to coach a team like this.
"This team is special. It’s special because it’s talented. It’s special because it has leadership. It’s special because of the character. It could have been a once-in-a-lifetime team."
Last year’s team was as dominating as any in Ohio State history until it lost to Clemson in a College Football Playoff semifinal. This year’s is ranked No. 2 in the coaches’ preseason poll.
"Certainly, the team last year I’ll never forget," Day said. "It was my first time as a head coach, and what they did was awesome. But there was just something about this team that had ‘it.’ "
That’s why Day is determined to fight to play as soon as possible. The Big Ten said Tuesday that it would consider having a spring season. If it’s deemed safe, Day wants it to start in early January with perhaps an eight- or nine-game schedule.
Several other Big Ten coaches — including Nebraska’s Scott Frost, Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh and Penn State’s James Franklin — also were vocal in wanting to salvage some sort of season. Asked if any kind of competition this fall between like-minded programs was possible, Day said that he and athletic director Gene Smith spoke about it at length Wednesday morning.
"That’s a fluid situation," Day said. "We’re still exploring all those options."
Smith told The Dispatch on Tuesday that playing non-Big Ten opponents wasn’t an option.
Day said that informing his players about the Big Ten’s decision was the hardest meeting he’s ever had to do as a coach.
"There are so many guys who’ve put so much time into this program," Day said. "That was just an awful meeting. But the message was that in life, things get taken from you. This got taken from us right now. Though it’s hard, they’ll draw back upon this and know how to use this as a reference point when things go bad in their life.
"We learn a lot of life lessons in football, and we have to learn how to work through this. We’re going to have to be strong and work through adversity and stick together in the end. Our culture is all built on fight. We have got to fight to stay strong."
Day said he allowed himself to have a "pity party" Tuesday.
"Sad, angry, frustrated," he said of his emotions. "I think our players do as well. But they’re a mature group. I think you’d really be impressed by the way they’ve handled themselves."
Several Ohio State players used social media to express their disappointment.
Defensive end Jonathon Cooper sat out last year’s postseason to preserve his redshirt senior year after a training camp ankle injury. His succinct post on Twitter: "Hurt."
Quarterback Justin Fields simply posted, "smh" (shaking my head).
Tight end Jeremy Ruckert thanked Ohio State for fighting for a season.
"If there’s anything certain about this time it’s that I know I chose the right school," Ruckert tweeted. "Through everything @OSU_AD (Gene Smith), @ryandaytime and everyone on staff had our back and fought for our best interest. Can’t say the same for others on the outside and that’s the sad truth."
Day hopes the grieving can start to fade soon.
"They feel like they’ve had something taken away from them," he said. "At the same time, we’re really getting focused on what’s next. That’s why I really believe we have to give these guys this plan moving forward on what is next. We owe it to these guys."