The Ohio State football team enters unprecedented territory.
Barring a change in plans, the Buckeyes will not play games in the fall for the first time since the program’s inception in 1890. The decision was made Tuesday by the Big Ten, which cited the coronavirus pandemic that has disrupted all levels of sports since March.
The cancellation of football (among other fall sports) invites a rush of questions about how the coming months will be managed, if the season will be rescheduled and how rosters will be managed.
In the aftermath of such momentous news, The Dispatch is sorting through the dynamics surrounding the Buckeyes:
Now what happens to the players?
Most of them expect to stay on campus, as classes for the fall semester at Ohio State begin on Aug. 24. They will remain on scholarship and maintain access to athletic facilities. The Student Athlete Support Services Office is open for tutoring and is to continue to provide scheduling assistance. The school said mental health services will also be available for athletes coping with the loss a season.
Will they work out?
The Buckeyes had been in preseason training camp up until Tuesday afternoon, when the Big Ten revealed its decision. Coach Ryan Day said workouts were shut down on Wednesday, giving players a day off, and that the weight room at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center was to reopen Thursday.
"Those guys can still have everything they need," Day said.
Next month, the team is expected to resume on-field workouts in some fashion, though Day was short on the specifics other than terming it as "football schools," personalized for each player on the roster. The current workouts are considered "discretionary," Day said.
Is COVID-19 testing available?
Yes, but it will be scaled back. For weeks, the Buckeyes have been tested twice per week, a policy that was to be standard across the Big Ten when the season began. But Day said players will now undergo testing only once per week, noting the team was in a less high-risk practice environment than the contact practices that were a part of preseason camp.
Could other teams poach OSU’s players?
Although the Big Ten and Pac 12 have canceled their seasons, three other Power Five conferences — the Atlantic Coast, Big 12 and Southeastern — are forging ahead with plans for a fall season.
Day did not anticipate players flocking to other schools, contending it would be too difficult to obtain a hardship waiver from the NCAA that would allow them to play immediately by late September, among other reasons.
"I don't see how that would be possible or safe for someone just to go at this point and play in a few weeks," Day said. "Certainly not safe, to go and try to learn an offense and go to a new place and everything like that at this moment."
So when do the Buckeyes play next?
Spring football is now the hot topic, though Ohio State’s actual preference is winter football. Day clarified during a conference call Wednesday that he hoped the Big Ten would adapt a season that begins in January and lasts eight or more weeks.
There is skepticism the model could work, as it would force teams to play two seasons in a calendar year, impacting a fall season in 2021.
Former Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said during an interview on the Big Ten Network on Tuesday that there was "no chance" for a spring season to be staged while still maintaining a fall campaign.
"Football is a physical, tough sport," Meyer said. "I can’t see that happening."
But Day’s stance differed slightly from his predecessor.
"I think if you play a full schedule, and you play it starting in the spring, like when you get into March, then I think you're asking for trouble," Day said. "But if you (start) back in January, I think that’s real."
Is there a timeline for scheduling a spring season?
There is none, though Day said it was important for a plan to be put in place as soon as possible due to the number of NFL draft-eligible players on the Buckeyes’ roster, including quarterback Justin Fields.
"I think we need to get on this right now," Day said, "and get these guys some answers."
That means a scheduling format needs to be put in place in weeks. "It can't be months," Day added.
What happens with eligibility?
When spring sports seasons were canceled by the NCAA earlier this year, the college sports governing body allowed schools to extend an additional year of eligibility to seniors who were unable to play.
If there is no spring football season, Day said he would like the same consideration to be made for football players.
"If that were to happen, then I think they do deserve that," he said.
The move would impact a variety of seniors on the roster, ranging from left tackle Thayer Munford to defensive end Jonathon Cooper and linebacker Tuf Borland, though the players could also opt against returning for a fall season in 2021 and turn pro.