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Jeff Snook Says Season Still Possible

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August 18, 2020 at 11:29pm



No matter what has been stated publicly, Ohio State’s hierarchy hasn’t yet given up on playing football this fall.

Athletic Director Gene Smith, with the full support of school president-elect Kristina Johnson, has been working behind the scenes for the past six days to organize fellow Big Ten conference athletic directors in convincing at least five other university presidents to move forward with a 10-game season to be played among six teams, a source familiar with the movement told me today.

In this proposed format, each team would play the other five Big Ten teams who are participating twice -- once at home and once on the road, beginning on either Sept. 26 or Oct. 3. The season would conclude by mid-December and there would no Big Ten title game in Indianapolis.

As of Tuesday night, the source claimed that Penn State President Eric Barron, Nebraska President Walter “Ted” Carter and Iowa President Bruce Harreld are on board with the new plan. The group hopes to convince two other universities, notably the University of Wisconsin and the University of Michigan, to join them.

“They really need to flip Wisconsin and Michigan to get to six schools and make this thing work,” the source said. “And they have only so much time to do it. They need to make progress and get it done in the next seven to 10 days.”

Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez, who coached the Badgers from 1990-2005, is a strong advocate for the plan but has yet to convince UW President Drew Peterson, the source said. Michigan Athletic Director Warde Manual, a former Wolverine player under Bo Schembechler, and coach Jim Harbaugh also want to compete this fall season, but school president Mark Schlissel has so far opposed their efforts. Schlissel, who has a medical degree, spoke in support of “player safety” after the Big Ten’s announcement to cancel last week.

“This thing probably won’t go anywhere unless certain Big Ten presidents – like those at Michigan and Wisconsin – feel the pressure from their alumni, fans and especially their major donors,” the source said. “I understand that several seven- and eight-figure donors at Michigan are very unhappy with the Big Ten’s decision and are putting pressure on their president to change his mind. And they may be threatening to withhold their money.

“If they can get six schools to participate, the remaining Big Ten schools then have the choice to either join them or opt out of the season.”

Many athletic directors and college football coaches, including Smith and Day among others, have contended their players are safer from contracting Covid-19 within the confines, protocols and testing of their athletic facilities than they would be in the general population on campus or in their hometowns.

Several attempts to reach Smith Tuesday night for comment were unsuccessful.

Smith’s efforts in this new plan also were helped somewhat when Ohio Governor Mike DeWine earlier Tuesday approved high school football to be played this fall, meaning a powerful duo of the state governor and the university president agree on the issue.

Sources Monday night said that the Big Ten presidents never voted on the issue before the conference adjourned its meeting last week and it was announced through new commissioner Kevin Warren that they were canceling the fall season. During the session among the presidents, Warren spoke often of preferring this season be pushed to the spring. And he repeated those thoughts on the Big Ten Network immediately following the announcement. The PAC 12 then cancelled its season within an hour.

The following morning, on Wednesday, I am told, Smith called Warren to see if there was any path for the Buckeyes to play this season and was shot down immediately. Smith then told the media later that day that the Ohio State athletic department would support the Big Ten’s decision to begin preparing for a spring football season. But Smith had not given up on salvaging the fall season, going to work immediately to gauge other schools’ interest in his plan.

Nebraska Athletic Director Bill Moos and coach Scott Frost also were very critical of the Big Ten’s decision, leading Warren to publicly rebuke the Cornhuskers’ leadership the following day. That day, the Big 12, ACC and SEC repeated their plans to continue with practices and its plans to play the fall season. The ACC plans to begin it schedule the weekend of Sept. 12, and the Big 12 and SEC are scheduled to kick off on Sept. 26.

In the past five days, parents of players at Iowa, Nebraska, Michigan, Penn State and Ohio State have been very vocal in their opposition to the Big Ten’s cancellation. Several have organized and sent letters to Warren’s office. Several others, led by Randy Wade, Ohio State cornerback Shaun Wade's father, also had planned to confront Warren Friday in Chicago. However, one source said Tuesday that Warren has yet to relocate to the Big Ten’s Chicago offices from his home in Minneapolis, where he worked as the chief operating officer of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings until he was hired five months ago to replace longtime commissioner Jim Delany.

Johnson, who succeeded former President Michael Drake and “pushed hard” during last week’s Big Ten presidential meeting to have teams continue practicing and then have a delayed start to the season from the original Sept. 3-5 kickoff the Big Ten had announced just six days earlier.

“Gene Smith, to his credit, created this grass-roots movement to get this done,” the source said. “He was heartbroken for Coach (Ryan) Day and those players and he has the new president’s full support.”

Several sources have said that Day has been almost inconsolable in private, knowing he had a team that was potentially as good as any in recent years of college football. The Buckeyes finished 13-1 in his first full season, losing 29-23 to Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinal in Glendale, Ariz.

Critics have been many – including former Ohio State coach Urban Meyer to current Alabama coach Nick Saban -- of the Big Ten’s latest plan to play football both in the spring and in the fall of 2021. Many of the league’s top NFL-eligible talent, such as Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields and Wade, likely would opt out of a spring season so close to their upcoming NFL rookie seasons. And underclassmen would face the burden of playing two seasons within a 10- or 11-month period, depending when the Big Ten would decide to begin its spring season.

“No chance,” Meyer said on the Big Ten Network last week. "You can't ask a player to play two seasons in a calendar year. When I first heard that, I said that. I don't see that happening when I hear that. The body, in my very strong opinion, is not made to play two seasons within a calendar year. That's 2,000 repetitive reps, and football is a physical, tough sport. So, I don't, really don't, see that happening.”

Saban said Tuesday, “I think one of the real consequences of this is if you’re a junior or a senior and you have an NFL grade, are you going to play in the spring? Or is that going to become sort of a JV season with a lot of these juniors and seniors opting out? …

“I’m in no way judging what anybody’s trying to do or not do. But our medical experts here thought that we could try to do this [and] create a safe environment and see if we can play. And I think that’s what we’re doing, and I think they’ve done a wonderful job of that.”

There is no doubt that if the SEC, as well as the ACC and Big 12, do pull it off and play this season – and the Big Ten does not – there will be long-lasting ramifications for the Big Ten.

“That’s the Big Ten’s worst nightmare,” the source said. “And Gene Smith is very smart, smart enough to realize just how bad it would be in the long run.”

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