Ohio State athletic director icy toward cold-weather playoff games

COLUMBUS -- Ohio State fans have longed dreamed of the day the Buckeyes might play host to Alabama at a frigid Ohio Stadium with national championship hopes in the balance.

It doesn’t have to be the Crimson Tide, of course.

There’s always defending national champion Georgia.

Clemson? Of course.

A revitalized Florida, Miami or Florida State? Bring ‘em on.

The point is more the “frigid” (and national championship hopes) than the opponent.

After decades of traveling to play Southern teams in the South and California teams in California, fans of the Buckeyes and other Big Ten schools thought they might get their chance.

A proposal to expand the College Football Playoff to 12 teams included first-round games at the home of the higher seed in December before moving on to play at neutral sites in later rounds.

That proposal has not been approved yet, and one of the reasons is disagreement about where to play the first-round games.

Gene Smith, a Cleveland native who played at Notre Dame in the ‘70s, confirmed Wednesday he is not for playing outdoors even if his team gets the chance to host.

The Ohio State director of athletics first mentioned this last summer at Big Ten Media Days, and but he went into more detail Wednesday during an hour-long press conference to discuss a variety of issues.

HIs top concern would be field conditions, especially in years such as 2021 when the Buckeyes are built around a quarterback like C.J. Stroud and a slew of speedy receivers.

“I know the fans would love to have it in (Ohio Stadium) and maybe it’s snowing or we’re playing whoever, but that surface is a whole new ballgame,” Smith said. “I would prefer to have the indoor elements and have a clean field.

“If it was this year, I would want C.J. to have good weather. It’s just that simple.”

Smith, who formerly was director of athletics at Arizona State, later clarified he is fine with the idea of teams having the option to play at home, but he also wants them to have the option to move the game to a neutral site if they desire.

“We would only do that because of weather,” Smith said. “So I just want it for the north. I certainly wouldn’t want to go to Scottsdale and play in Glendale when you can play outdoors at Arizona State.”

In Ohio State’s case, that would likely be Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, though he also mentioned Detroit or Minneapolis as potential host sites.

The Buckeyes and their fans are familiar with that facility thanks to frequent relatively short trips west for the Big Ten Championship Game.

“I think our fans understand that environment,” Smith said. “They love the hotels, they love the restaurants and all that. So while it’s difficult to take it away from ‘the Shoe,’ I still think that’s the right thing to do for the players in the game.”

Although he indicated that flexibility has been granted in ongoing negotiations about what the next iteration of the playoff might look like, he acknowledged many issues still remain.

Those include when games would be played and how late into January the season would extend, among other things.

“I think we’re gonna get there,” Smith said. “I just think we’ve got to keep working through these little interests that each conference has. Some people will have to sacrifice and give up some of those interests. It’s a negotiation, so I think we’ll get there. I hope we get there because I think it’s a cool thing. I really do.”

About the Author