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Ohio State president says university’s protocols are sufficient to allow football

Bill Rabinowitz
brabinow@dispatch.com
Ohio State president Kristina M. Johnson told WOSU radio listeners Wednesday that she was "disappointed" by the Big Ten's vote to cancel fall sports.

Ohio State president Kristina M. Johnson said Wednesday on WOSU radio that she believed protocols the school adopted to combat COVID-19 are sufficient to allow football and other fall sports to be played.

Johnson, along with the presidents of Iowa and Nebraska, were the only leaders to vote against postponement of fall sports. She said she drew on her experience as a former field hockey player at Stanford.

“I understand how painful and frustrating it is for players to have worked so hard to be at this place and this performance,” Johnson said on the program All Sides with Ann Fisher. “But I have to step back and say also that we need to put safety first.

“So both considerations (are important). Of course, we want to be safe, and at the Ohio State University I have full faith and confidence that we’ve created a program that does keep our players safe and would allow the ability to compete.

“And it's not just football. My sport was obviously not football. It was field hockey, and then we have track and volleyball. There were an awful lot of sports and a lot of athletes that were impacted by the decision to postpone.”

The Big Ten voted to cancel fall sports on Aug. 11, a decision that has received criticism for being premature. The Pac-12 also voted that day not to play in the fall, a decision many smaller conferences also have made.

But the Southeastern, Big 12 and Atlantic Coast conferences are proceeding with their fall seasons.

The Big Ten has a task force, on which Johnson serves, that is planning for a possible return to sports in 2021. League athletic directors and coaches are formulating a plan that could start football as early as late fall.

“We were very careful to say this is not a cancellation, it’s a postponement,” Johnson said. “That decision was made Aug. 11. I voted not to postpone but to delay (and adjust) as we got more information. And we’ve gotten more information, we do understand that there are ways to make sure we’ve got a clean playing field and that’s what you want to make sure of.

“If you’re going to have contact sports, you have to make sure that individuals that are doing that are not infectious, and that they can play. I believe that we have the kind of protocols that will allow us to do that.”

The Big Ten did not release the vote tally until a lawsuit brought by Nebraska players prompted it. Ohio State, Nebraska and Iowa were the only votes not to postpone.

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump urged the Big Ten to play this fall, and on Twitter cited a telephone call with Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren that the president termed as “very productive.”

Johnson didn’t address Trump’s tweets, but did offer her opinion on the conference’s decision.

“I’m disappointed with the vote,” Johnson said. “It is what it is. So we’re going to move forward and continue to get more information so that we can make all of us comfortable as we look forward to starting sports that all our athletes can be safe. So that's really what I’m focused on — the safety of our students, our faculty and staff, and this tremendous enterprise that we call the Ohio State University.”

brabinowitz@dispatch.com

@brdispatch

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