'A great day for Buckeye Nation’: Ohio State ecstatically plans fall football season after Big Ten OKs play again
For more than a month, a year like no other looked as though it would not include Ohio State football.
That all changed on Wednesday, when the Big Ten Conference announced it would pursue a nine-game schedule starting the weekend of Oct. 23-24.
“Clearly it’s a great day for Buckeye Nation,” Ohio State president Kristina M. Johnson said in a conference call. “We’re so excited for Buckeye Nation. It’s what we always wanted — an opportunity for student-athletes to compete in sports they love.”
The day marked a stark reversal of the conference’s decision of Aug. 11, when it said it would not play fall sports because of the coronavirus pandemic. Eight days later, league commissioner Kevin Warren rebuffed critics by saying the decision would not be revisited.
But the conference on Wednesday pointed to medical advances in rapid-response testing for COVID-19 that allowed for a change of position.
The Big Ten’s medical plan will include daily antigen testing for players, coaches, trainers and others on the field for practices and games as well as enhanced cardiac screening.
The latter stems from concerns about the link between COVID-19 and myocarditis, a rare inflammation of the heart that can lead to cardiac arrest and which emerged as a major factor in the Big Ten’s August decision. The new cardiac testing will include blood work, electrocardiograms, echocardiograms and cardiac MRIs.
Players who test positive for COVID cannot participate for 21 days. The Big Ten will pay for the medical tests.
The decision was welcome news among Big Ten players, parents, coaches and administrators, many of whom had lobbied in recent weeks for the conference to reverse its decision.
“We’re in a better place, regardless of how we got here or how painful it was,” Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said. “That’s all behind us. What’s beautiful is we have a process and protocols in place based on science and lessons learned since Aug. 11.”
On that date, the vote to cancel football and other fall sports by conference presidents and chancellors was 11-3, with Ohio State, Iowa and Nebraska the only dissenters. The Big Ten said its vote on Wednesday was unanimous.
The schedule will be announced later this week. Each team will play eight regular-season games. In the final week, the top seeds from each division will play in the Big Ten championship game. The other seeds will play the corresponding team in the opposite division, though with an attempt to avoid repeat regular-season matchups.
The Big Ten also announced that fans will not be permitted to attend games. Johnson said that decision was made to prevent potential spread of COVID, though she said that could be altered depending on circumstances.
Warren said an announcement about other fall sports — men’s and women’s soccer and cross country, field hockey and women’s volleyball also were put on hold in August — would come later in the week.
The announcement regarding football came after several days of intense discussion among the conference’s 14 university presidents and chancellors and its Return to Play task force.
The medical subcommittee, co-chaired by Ohio State team physician Dr. Jim Borchers, was instrumental in Wednesday’s decision. He spoke to the Big Ten’s steering committee on Saturday about medical advances. Borchers also allayed concerns about myocarditis.
Borchers was part of a myocarditis study conducted by Ohio State this spring. The study showed that four of 26 college athletes who had tested positive for COVID-19 also showed signs of the disease. A co-author of the study, Dr. Curt Daniels, told The Dispatch this week that the results showed a pathway toward safely returning to play, not as a deterrent to playing.
“We were blessed to have Jim Borchers in that seat,” Smith said. “I can’t stress that enough.”
The medical input was the biggest piece of the puzzle. The persistent pressure on the Big Ten to reconsider its decision by players and parents also played a role. Ohio State’s parents had a rally Aug. 23 in the rotunda at Ohio Stadium that drew about 200 fans. OSU coach Ryan Day released a statement last Thursday criticizing the Big Ten’s lack of communication and arguing that a season starting in mid-October remained feasible.
“I’m very, very excited for our players,” Day said Wednesday. “We’re at such a stronger place than we were Aug. 11” in terms of medical protocols.
He added, “I’m excited for the players because they never lost faith and never lost trust. Their behavior through this time has been excellent. And they never stopped fighting during a time that was very, very uncertain. It’s not easy for 19-to- 21-year-olds to go through this and they did. The culture was never more evident.”
The expectation is that the late October start will allow for Big Ten teams to be eligible for consideration for the College Football Playoff. Day has said he believed he had a “once-in-a-lifetime” team in 2020. The Buckeyes were ranked No. 2 in the major preseason polls.
The Big Ten’s reversal leaves the Pac-12 as the only major conference not attempting to play this fall.
The college football season began in earnest last week with teams from two other Power Five conferences – the Big 12 and Atlantic Coast Conference – opening play. Teams from the Southeastern Conference begin playing next week.
But the Big Ten acknowledged that all games are at the mercy of the coronavirus. Nearly two dozen Football Bowl Subdivision games have been postponed because of positive COVID tests so far this season.
Smith is confident that the medical plan the Big Ten has installed will allow most games to be played.
“I feel if every school embraces the protocols and do, frankly, what our student-athletes, our football players are doing, we should have a chance for clean competitive window for Saturdays,” he said.
The next challenge will be ramping up for a season. Since mid-August, Big Ten players have been limited to 12 hours of football-related work instead of the normal 20. They haven’t been allowed to practice in pads or helmets.
Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez said he expects teams to get permission to practice immediately.
And so a season that seemed destined not to happen will proceed.
“We’ve come out with a protocol, a process and a way to play,” Johnson said. “What I’m thrilled about is we get to play for all the marbles.”