“They can’t just come back and play,” Smith said. “Those days are gone.”
The season is scheduled to open Sept. 5. The Buckeyes play Bowling Green in the opener at Ohio Stadium. Normally, they would start practice in the last week of July or the first week of August.
Smith wonders if the team will need more time to prepare now: maybe two weeks of workouts with pads, for example, before the true preseason practices begin. He said doctors and trainers across the country will need to collaborate to decide what’s best for the players.
Smith hasn’t begun to analyze scheduling models in which the season starts later than Sept. 5. He knows others have done that. He also knows the decision to start practice and games won’t be made solely by Ohio State.
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“This is a collective decision around the country,” Smith said. “There has to be a national resolve for this. We have athletic directors, conference commissioners, the American Football Coaches Association, the NCAA committee on competitive safeguards and medical aspects of sports, the Football Oversight Committee. There’s an NCAA COVID-19 advisory panel. We have one in the Big Ten. All these entities have to collaborate to get to a point where we can even think about, ‘What would be the right model for the season?’”
Playing games without spectators is an idea Smith has pondered.
“When I first heard that, I thought, ‘OK, that could work,’” he said, “but then I figure that if we don’t have fans in the stands and we’ve determined it’s not safe for them in a gathering environment, why would it be safe for the players.”
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There’s little question in Smith’s mind the university itself will have to be open before the football players return.
“If students aren’t on campus,” he said, “that means the institution has made a decision it’s not safe for those students to be here on campus. Right? So why would it be safe for student-athletes?”
Smith remains hopeful there will be a football season in the fall in some form or fashion. He said that may be naive on his part, but he believe something is going to happen. He has not talking with anyone about moving the start of the season back in the fall or pushing everything to the spring. In a worst-case scenario, he said, those discussions will occur.
“We’re not going to rush this,” Smith said. “We’ve got a major societal issue. Football is important. I know that. But at the end of the day, we’ve got people dying. I’m of the opinion that we wait, follow the lead of our experts, follow the lead of our ultimate decision makers, our governors, our president, all that, and then we’ll deal with whatever. That’s the great thing about ADs. We adjust.”