COLUMBUS — Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said Wednesday he is confident in the football team’s plan for currently conducting workouts and for starting walk-throughs Friday. As for the plan for the Buckeyes to start official preseason practice Aug. 7, Smith still has some questions about that.
“I’ve got a comfort level, I really do,” Smith of Ohio State’s current plan for keeping football players healthy. “Now, when we move into practice on Aug. 7, I’m not there. I don’t have the comfort level there. … I like our progress, we have the right questions on the table. I may get there for Aug. 7. I’m sure I will.”
Smith spoke on 97.1 The Fan radio in Columbus, with Beau Bishop and former Buckeye James Laurinaitis. In several conference calls in the past with reporters since the coronavirus outbreak, Smith has always spoken cautiously and has been reluctant to look too far into the future. He’ll make plans, but not assumptions.
So his comments weren’t a surprise. Smith said Big Ten athletic directors continue to talk several times a week, and he emphasized again that canceling the non-conference part of the football season gave the league needed flexibility. The OSU season was originally supposed to begin Sept. 5, but as it stands, the first game on the schedule is Sept. 26 against Rutgers.
Smith implied that the Big Ten is ready to delay its decision on a season as long as it can. He didn’t rule out a spring football season, but he said that hasn’t been discussed much yet. Getting in some kind of shortened season in this fall is the priority, and he doesn’t want to give up on that too early.
“We’ve gotta make sure as best we can that we don’t overreact, and that we give (the players) a chance,” Smith said.
While several FCS-level conferences have canceled fall football, it didn’t sound like the Big Ten is getting close to a final decision. Other Big Ten fall sports are also going to conference-only schedules, and basketball coaches have been told to offer up different scenarios on how that season might work. But football is the primary question.
Friday will be another test. Football players have been working out voluntarily since June 8, with a shutdown between July 8 and July 14 after some athletes tested positive for coronavirus. Smith again said his greatest worry is players getting infected when they are back in their apartments and away from the football facility, but he said players have been policing each other to encourage mask-wearing and social distancing.
No OSU football game is currently scheduled for another nine weeks. So the Buckeyes and the Big Ten will continue to wait.