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Big Ten football returns: What we know now

Adam Jardy
ajardy@dispatch.com
It's possible that coach Ryan Day and Ohio State will get a chance to defend its Big Ten title this season after the conference announced on Wednesday that it would play football this season. The Big Ten in August had shut down fall sports because of the coronavirus pandemic.

After weeks of uncertainty, the Big Ten announced its plans Wednesday to resume football – and potentially other sports – this fall.

As this story develops, here’s what we know right now.

When will things get underway?

The weekend of Oct. 23 will be the first weekend of Big Ten games. On Thursday, league athletic directors are expected to meet and approve a return to a typical, 20-hour practice week.

What will the season look like?

All Big Ten teams will play eight regular-season games in as many weeks in a season that will conclude on Dec. 12. Then, during the following weekend of Dec. 18-19, the league will implement a twist to what would be the conference championship game. In addition to the top team from each division playing each other for a Big Ten title, the second-place teams will face each other and so on down to the bottom of the standings.

The eight-game schedule will be split evenly between home and road games.

When will we get schedules?

Specific dates and opponents are in the process of being finalized. Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said Wednesday on a conference call that schedule work will begin Thursday morning and that the league hopes to have a complete schedule by the end of next week.

Can fans go to games?

Nope. Unless things change, tickets will not be available to the public, and there are multiple reasons for that but Smith summed it up succinctly.

“Our primary objective is to get the games played,” Smith said.

Will other fall sports also return to action?

This was implied but never fully discussed during a conference call featuring new Ohio State president Kristina M. Johnson, Smith and football coach Ryan Day.

“As football goes, so do all our other sports,” Smith said. “(Our other) athletes now feel as if they can compete.”

Men’s and women’s cross country and soccer, women’s volleyball and field hockey also had their fall seasons postponed. Some of those coaches have expressed optimism to The Dispatch about being able to resume their seasons in the wake of Wednesday’s news.

What led the Big Ten to reverse course?

The answer is twofold: affordable access to rapid testing was critical, but developing protocols to help ensure player safety was most critical.

Players will undergo daily antigen testing, and Johnson said work from the medical subcommittee led to a different decision Wednesday than the one that shuttered the season in August.

“We were driven to make sure we had the protocols to help keep our players safe,” Smith said.

Johnson also expressed her belief that the Buckeyes will be able to have a clean and safe playing field given the testing and safety protocols.

The Big Ten will announce who is providing the tests at a later date, Smith said.

Can Ohio State still compete for a national championship in football?

It appears so. Smith said that schedules across the country will be different but that how a team plays in addition to the number of games it completes should all factor into which teams are selected to participate in the College Football Playoff.

“I think we have come out with a protocol and a process and a way to play and now we get to play for all the marbles,” Johnson said.

In addition, holding the league title game during the weekend of Dec. 18-19 would allow the Big Ten to wrap up its season in advance of the Dec. 20 selection of the playoff teams.

How much will this help the bottom line of the Ohio State athletic department?

That’s to be determined, although it will certainly help. Smith said the Big Ten will now turn its attention to its deals with its television partners once it completes a schedule, and both men’s and women’s college basketball will receive a plan for the 2020-21 season later Wednesday.

Both developments will have an impact on how much the Buckeyes might be able to mitigate financial losses related to the pandemic.

“This is a fluid year,” Smith said.

Will all of OSU’s players return?

The Buckeyes lost two high-profile players to the NFL in recent days in Wyatt Davis and Shaun Wade. Both opted to leave because there were no indications when or if there would be a season, leaving open the question of if they would reconsider their decisions.

“In communication with both of those guys and their families, they wanted to play,” Day said. “At the time, the information we had, we weren’t playing a season. This is a very unique time.

“If they want to play, I believe 1000% they should be allowed the opportunity to play. This all came out fast. We’ll let them digest and see in the conversations they’re having with their families what they want to do, and we’ll go from there. We’ll figure that out over the next couple of days.”

Smith said he had left messages with both players and briefly stepped away from the video conference to take a call from Davis.

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy