Ohio State’s Gene Smith no longer optimistic about fall, but Big Ten making plans

After the Big Ten announced it is canceling all nonconference games in 10 sports this fall, Ohio State director of athletics Gene Smith held a conference call to talk about the decision.

Here are seven takeaways:

1. The main motivation for the move was to gain flexibility as the coronavirus pandemic continues to muddle the future.

“With our conference games, being able to move up into September allows us the ability to create flexibility and handle disruptions, aligning with our academic calendars,” Smith said. “We had to wait and find out what are our schools in our league going to do. Are they going to have in-person classes? Are they going to have a hybrid program? When are they going to start, when they’re going end? And we’re aligned mostly with the academic calendars where a lot of our schools are shutting down in person prior to Thanksgiving.”

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That could mean for this year reversing a move made 10 year ago when the conference added a bye week to the schedule and began finishing the conference season on the Saturday after Thanksgiving instead of the Saturday before.

“Now we have the ability to say to ourselves, ‘You know, we’ve got set Sept. 5 available, so how do we want to play that?’” Smith said. “We can be nimble. We can adjust.”

2. That means the schedule is not likely to remain as it is.

“We’ll probably look at what we currently have scheduled and consider those contests and whether or not we can retain those,” Smith said. “Obviously the dates would change, and then we’ll have to determine some principles about East versus West divisions and how we want to structure that. But we have a scheduler in the Big Ten and we’ll talk about our planning principles and we’ll schedule games.

“Obviously, in this situation from a competitive equity point of view, everybody won’t be happy, but the reality is you get a chance to compete and allow your kids a chance to play, so we have to set aside to some degree competitive equity.”

3. Big Ten teams could play nine or 10 games, and the league may schedule only some games to begin with.

“We have to determine how many,” Smith said. “We have to determine the divisional issues and how we want to deal with that. We have determined how many games we want to pre-schedule. We may only pre-schedule ‘X’ number games and hold others in abeyance because we just have to understand that the virus is going to exist.

So that’s the beauty of having September 5 available or (the week before), which is available now that the NCAA has approved that. So all those things give us the ability to schedule games. We’ll just have to figure out what our planning principles are.”

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4. The league has not yet come up with a process for deciding how to handle deciding if or when a game should be canceled or postponed.

“Wee know we have to do that and we’re going to delve into that, no question,” Smith said. “We’re going to have to create those parameters and a process by which the approval is made through the conference office so yes, definitely.

5. Smith has lost his optimism for there being a season. 

“In May, we were on a downward trajectory with cases and our hospitals were creating opportunities for people to come back and get the care that they needed beyond COVID, elective surgeries and things of that nature, and now we’re if not the worst in the world, one of the worst in the world.

“So I am concerned that we may not be able to play, which is why we took the measure that we took in order to try and have September available to us for conference games. To give us the flexibility and control to handle disruptions if we’re able to start a season. I’m concerned about where we are just across the board relative to the management of the pandemic as individuals.

“I think our governor has done a phenomenal job. He had us on a great trajectory downward, and we just didn’t respond to opportunities that were provided to us. So, people need to follow the protocols and give our kids a chance to compete.”

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6. Smith is not sure if the plan to start modified preseason practices July 24 will remain in place or have to change.

“You literally have to go day by day, week by week, so you know we got to see where things go next week across the country and locally,” Smith said. “And then we have to make a decision on what week we’re going to start relative to contests. There’s a couple of variables in there, but it’s too difficult for me to speculate at this point in time.”

7. The postseason is not on his mind at this point in time.

“I just want to give our kids a chance to play,” Smith said. “You guys know this: In all the fall sports, we have a number of athletes who have an opportunity to have future careers or future opportunities in their sports, and I want to give that chance. So I’m more concerned about the regular season right now, and if we’re blessed to have a postseason — whatever that looks like — great. But right now, I would love Wyatt Davis and Josh Myers to have a chance to have a season. And so that was a concern of mine at the beginning, but it’s no longer a concern. The regular season is my concern.”

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