The forced shutdown of all things sports due to the outbreak of COVID-19 has led to increased speculation on whether the 2020 college football season will —or even can — be played come August.
That speculation has only ramped up over the past week as seemingly everyone with a platform has weighed in with their thoughts on the ultimate fate of football this year.
On Friday, Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith spoke with the media via teleconference to offer his insight into where conversations are currently being directed among officials around college football, as well as his opinions on some of the speculation currently being tossed around.
Asked if there have been any discussions on potential alternative models that could be used for the 2020 season to allow for it to still be played, Smith said those discussions have not yet begun. Rather, he said conversations have just recently started on what it would take for a team to even be properly prepared for a season should one be played.
“The discussions we just started late last week … were really just about return-to-play protocols,” Smith said. “It’s interesting that we jump to (talking about the season) and forget about the health and safety of our players.”
Smith pointed to the lack of workouts due to spring practice being canceled and the likelihood of no summer workouts taking place either.
“One of the things that we have talked about that is of the utmost importance is what are the things that we have to put in place relative to the return to play of the player,” Smith said. “Is that an eight-week, six-week, or four-week schedule for them to reacclimate to a grueling, physical, competitive environment?
“Making sure we avoid muscle tissue issues, sprains, and strains … all those types of things that can occur because you haven’t been working out at the same level of intensity that we have historically prepared them. They just can’t come back and play. Those days are gone.”
The determinations resulting from discussions on return-to-play protocol will allow them to move forward with considering season models, Smith said, adding that there has to be a “national resolve” from programs all over the country for whatever that model may be.
That there needs to be country-wide buy-in on potential plans for the season also presents another significant challenge in and of itself. As Smith pointed out, not every state is in the same place in regards to their fight against the virus, nor will they be months from now.
“Many of the decisions will be based on where the states are,” Smith said. “If you look across the country now, there are different dates for when gatherings can return. Here in Ohio, we’re blessed that our governor made some early, tough decisions, and we’re able to maybe, at some time, return earlier than somewhere else. There are a lot of layers to this decision-making process, and we’ll just have to wait and see.”
With players currently having gone back home, Smith said there could be many issues with players returning to campus even if Ohio lifted its bans as their own home states might still be shut down or limited in terms of what type of travel is allowed.
As for if there will be any sort of hard deadline for when programs and officials around college football will need to have a set plan in place in order for the season to begin, Smith said that deadline can’t be made until the window for players returning and getting adequately prepared is figured out first.
One model that is commonly being thrown around, not just for the 2020 college football season but for all sports hoping to return soon, is the idea of playing without fans in attendance. While Smith was generally reluctant to discuss models during the call, he said a model involving empty venues is one he has personally considered.
“I struggle with that concept,” Smith said of a season with no fans. “When I first heard it, I thought, ‘Ok, that could work.’ But then I figured that if we don’t have fans in the stands, then we have determined that it’s not safe for them in a gathering environment. So why would it be safe for the players?”
Smith said that question is something he will have to dive into further to gain a better understanding and develop a definitive opinion on whether a season without fans would make sense.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.