Pieces are beginning to fall into place for a 2020 college football season to take place, although there is still great uncertainty as to what that season would look like.
On Wednesday, Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith spoke with the media via teleconference to address many of the endless questions surrounding the outlook for the upcoming season.
Before a season can happen, players must first return to campus, and Smith confirmed an earlier report from Bucknuts stating that players would be allowed to return for voluntary workouts beginning on June 8. Smith said the return hinges on the NCAA voting to end the moratorium on voluntary athletic activities, which they did on Wednesday afternoon.
Players will have to sign off on returning to the Woody Hayes Athletic Center and will have their temperatures checked prior to entrance, Smith said. The number of players allowed in the facility will be 10 athletes at a time, and workout times will be staggered, with sanitation occurring in between segments, in order to give as many players as possible access to the building.
Smith said along with utilizing the adjoining Schumaker Complex, he believes close to 50 athletes could have access to the facilities on a given day.
In response to a question about why June 8 was identified as an appropriate time for players to be able to return to campus, Smith said he and his staff feel the on-campus facilities present the safest environment for players to begin working out again.
“We feel that with the facilities that we have, with the protocols we can put in place … it’s the best-protected environment,” he said. “There are a lot of health clubs, workout places, spas, and gyms that do an excellent job, but some of our young people are not in environments where they have access to those best facilities. So, we want to provide them with the opportunity to have access to the state-of-the-art equipment that we have, as well as our medical team and trainers. We want to continue making sure that they’re in the safest environment possible, and that’s what we feel we can provide.”
One of the many layers to figuring out the 2020 college football season is identifying who intends to play this season and who might potentially cancel their season. Within conferences alone, there is uncertainty as to whether all teams will be on the same page. Smith said that the ideal scenario will be for there to be uniformity across the country, although he doesn’t believe that suggests an all-or-nothing approach to the season.
“The perfect scenario, obviously, is that we have a national solution where there’s some consistency,” Smith said, citing an example such as a conference-only season with a set amount of games that could then tie into a postseason format. Smith said athletic directors have not begun to have such conversations as of now, but added, “We should be able to find a way to not penalize all the schools” if some are not able to play this fall.
Asked when he felt a decision on how the schedule will look would need to be made, Smith identified early July as the timeframe for those decisions to be made.
Ohio State’s highly-anticipated non-conference game at Oregon hangs in limbo as season models are yet to be decided, and many speculated models center around reduced seasons. Smith said there have been no conversations with Rob Mullens, the athletic director at Oregon, about flipping the sites of the schools’ home-and-home agreement for this year and next.
Smith went on to say he’s unsure if he would even agree to host Oregon this season and return the visit to Eugene in 2021 because it would mean Ohio State would have fewer than seven home games next season.
When Smith last spoke with the media, he said he struggled with the idea of games being deemed safe for players to play but not for fans to attend. On Wednesday, he said he is becoming increasingly open to the idea if that is where the decisions fall.
“I struggled with it at the beginning, but as I’ve continued to have conversations, I’m becoming more comfortable with that if that is where we end up,” Smith stated, adding that he is “optimistic” that a stadium with no fans won’t be the case.
However, Smith went on to say he still struggles with the concept that a safe environment could be created for the teams involved but not for a “significantly” reduced number of fans in the stands. He said Ohio State is fortunate that Ohio Stadium has a capacity of over 100,000 people, meaning there would be plenty of space to implement proper social distancing protocols inside the stadium.
“I just think we have the talent, skill, and (stadium) capacity to provide an opportunity for a certain number of fans to have access to our particular stadium,” Smith said.
Smith later said the athletic department has begun to consider social distancing models for fan admittance and said the current social distancing guidelines would bring the capacity of Ohio Stadium down to the range of 20-22,000 people. Smith later clarified on his Twitter account that should social distancing guidelines be eased, perhaps capacity could be as many as 40-50,000 people.
As for how it would be determined who would get tickets to games, Smith said they would likely rely on the current model of a point system among faculty, students, and donors.
“Our points system has held the test of time, so that would probably be one (way),” Smith said. “Parents and guests of our student-athletes and coaches would be a high priority.”
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.