Teleconference Bullets: Gene Smith Says Discussions About Football Season Haven't Begun, Ohio State Will Follow Experts And More

By Colin Hass-Hill on April 10, 2020 at 11:06 am
Gene Smith

Every morning, Ohio State's Gene Smith said, all Big Ten athletic directors have gathered together on a conference call to discuss issues stemming from COVID-19.

On Friday morning, he spent approximately 45 minutes on the phone with reporters to talk about the 2020 football season, the effects of the coronavirus and more.

Here's a bullet-point rundown of Smith's comments.

  • He says he both wants share his condolences with the victims of COVID-19 and offer thanks to the first responders.
  • "The athletic directors in the Big Ten have been having morning calls for about three weeks now." He says most of the time has been spent dealing with what's happening in the moment rather than long-term issues. 
  • "We have not begun our discussions on models for the football season." He says late last week they started discussing return-to-play protocols.
  • Smith says players would usually be in spring camp then have summer workouts on campus. "We won't have that." He says they've discussed what they have to put in place to help players to avoid injuries. He wonders about the hypotheticals of whether they need four, six or eight weeks.
  • He says they can't go back to the days of immediately playing games before practice.
  • Smith notes this is a "collective issue around the country." He says everybody has to collaborate before they get to talking about the 2020 football season.
  • On the football season: "We haven't even begun to talk about all the scenarios that have been talked about publicly."
  • He says many of the decisions will be made based upon how the states deal with the pandemic.
  • On the football season: "There are a lot of layers with this decision-making process."
  • He says Ohio State's athletic department will "end up in a good spot" with the latest financial year revenue. He says they're "just about done" projecting next year's budget.
  • On Ohio State's reserve fund: "We will be at about $10.2-10.3 million at the end of this fiscal year." He says they'll use the reserve to fill whatever void they need to fill.
  • Pay cuts for the coaches have not been discussed, Smith said. The university is evaluating whether personnel pay cuts need to happen.
  • On the financial importance of football: "The football season, as you all know, is vital to the budget health of the overall department. It is the driver of our budget." 
  • On spring sport athletes getting an extra year of eligibility: "That issue took a lot of our time as ADs." He says every school in the Big Ten took a different approach. 
  • Smith said 31 of Ohio State's 70 spring sports seniors chose to return for an extra year of eligibility. The other 39 decided to move on. They account for 14.28 scholarships. Accounting for all expenses, Smith projects it'll cost around $900,000.
  • Smith says he hasn't thought about a hard deadline of when college football has to return in order to play the season. He thinks a hard date will come when they have an idea of how long players need to prepare for the season.
  • He says he has to rely on the experts about when players can be around each other and safely practice or play. "Because we cannot put our kids at risk."
  • On the possibility of a shortened season: "I think it's very difficult for us to think about models right now." He says he hasn't even thought about them yet but will if necessary. He enjoys having these types of hypothetical conversations with his colleagues, he says.
  • On if the season could happen on a different timeline: "I don't know." He says there are "a lot of elements in that" so he's not going to go down that path yet.
  • "We've been able to provide some nutrition to some kids based on their circumstances and where they are." 
  • On the possibility of playing games without fans: "That one, I've thought about it a little bit. I struggle with that concept because when I first heard that, I thought, 'OK, it could work.'" Then, he says, he realized they would've determined it is not safe for fans to be sitting together, so why would it be safe for the players? He hasn't heard enough from the experts or his colleagues to have a definitive opinion, he says, and he thinks it's important to hear from doctors.
  • Smith said having no fans at Ohio State football games would have a "major impact" on the athletic department's finances and what they are able to do for their student-athletes.
  • He says this will have a greater impact on Ohio State than the late 2000s recession. He says this one "is a lot more devastating," and it prevents face-to-face interaction with donors and makes the university not quite as aggressive in its approach with them.
  • On how players can rehab injuries: "My concern when we started this was around that and around strength and conditioning overall." Smith says the trainers and strength coaches, though, are "in lockstep." He says he had concern, but he feels good about the the response.
  • Smith says the Big Ten and other Power Five schools are heavily reliant on the commissioners while also putting an emphasis on the Division I Football Oversight Committee.
  • Can football games be played without students on campus? "That's the other issue. I don't know." He wonder why it would be safe for student-athletes if other students are on campus. "At the end of the day, it doesn't make sense." 
  • He says he's hopeful there's a football season in the fall "in some form or fashion." He says he has to believe something's going to happen.
  • "We're not going to rush this. We've got a major societal issue. Football's important, I know that. But at the end of the day, we've got people dying." He says he's in favor of waiting and following the experts on the matter.
  • Smith says Ohio State will soon begin the process of determining how much money the athletic department would lose by not having football games or not having fans at games. Each game brings in a net revenue of around $5 million to 7 million, he said.
  • He says he hasn't had any conversations about pushing the football season back to the spring.
  • Smith says conversations about competitive balance were never brought up when considering whether or not to allow spring sport seniors to return for another season. "I think if it was football, we'd have a different conversation, to be quite frank."
  • He says Ohio State extended the football season ticket deadline and will give reimbursements if there's no season. Only 10 fans thus far have called and have been reimbursed, Smith said.
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