Teleconference Bullets: Gene Smith Explains Ohio State Football Players Working Out On Campus, Safety Protocols, 2020 Season

By Colin Hass-Hill on May 20, 2020 at 3:01 pm
Gene Smith

Ohio State is planning to reopen the Woody Hayes Athletic Center to football players as soon as June 8. On Wednesday afternoon, athletic director Gene Smith addressed the media on a teleconference to explain the Buckeyes' plans to reopen the facility for voluntary workouts.

Here's a rundown of everything Smith talked about on Wednesday:

  • Smith says every decision being made is with the health of the athletes, coaches and staff at the forefront of their minds.
  • On the possibility of playing games without fans: "Obviously that's still a conversation all of us are having." He says he's becoming more comfortable with that as a possible solution. 
  • Smith wonders whether Ohio State could welcome a limited amount of fans to Ohio Stadium while adhering to CDC guidelines.
  • He says the parents and the guests of the student-athletes and coaches would be a high priority. They'd also use the "point" system.
  • Smith said Ohio State has looked at social distancing concepts that would allow Ohio Stadium to have some fans this season, but those concepts would likely reduce capacity to 20,000 to 22,000 fans.
  • "The perfect scenario, obviously, is that we have a national solution with some consistency." He said if there's consistency across the nation, it'll make the postseason scenarios easy. "Of course if you get 12 games, then it's all moot."
  • Smith says "it's best" if all 14 Big Ten schools play. He said the athletic directors haven't discussed playing without certain teams or a team, but he said he thinks the conference needs to be flexible so as not to penalize other schools if some schools can't play.
  • On whether they've discussed what would happen if a player tests positive for coronavirus during the season: "We haven't. We're really turning that over to the medical experts." He continues: "At this point in time, it hasn't been a directive that we have to do that."
  • Smith says they're hoping to have answers shortly on various topics after the NCAA's Division-I council meets on Wednesday.
  • He says they're hoping to allow access to the Woody Hayes Athletic Center and Schumaker Complex in June for voluntary workouts.
  • Smith says athletes will not take coronavirus tests during the summer. 
  • He says groups of nine or 10 players will work out at a time, and afterward it'll get cleaned and then another group will come in. In a day, he says, they should be able to have 50 athletes work out.
  • The university also will have to approve the use of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
  • Smith says a decision on the season should be made by early July. "We need to not rush this." He says different schools will make decisions on reopening at different times, but by early July there needs to be "clarity on what we're doing."
  • "We feel that the facilities that we have with the protocols we can put in place" are the best options for the athletes, which plays a role in reopening the WHAC for them. On the decision to open up athletic facilities on June 8, he said a good amount of student-athletes are still in Columbus, so Ohio State wants to be able to provide resources to them that might be safer than going to local gyms or other athletic facilities.
  • On opening facilities: "We want to crawl before we walk and run, and football of course makes sense to begin with."
  • On what happens if someone gets coronavirus during the season: "At some point, we'll get to that discussion." He says that won't be the decision of an athletic director.
  • Smith says they'll turn to the medical staff if someone gets coronavirus during June. "It may be that they decide that we should shut it down." He said they'd follow the direction of the medical personnel.
  • He says the workouts won't be as intense because they won't be without groups. "We've got to be careful with the muscle-tissue injuries and things of that nature." He says the best-case scenario would be to have six weeks of preseason camp, and it could be slid to four or five weeks if necessary.
  • Smith says he still isn't "100 percent comfortable" with football games being played this season with the risks of COVID-19. He's getting closer than he was a couple months ago and is hopeful he'll get there, but he's not quite there yet.
  • On "I think as we get closer to what reality might be, we'll get more focused on what we have to do there."
  • On whether Ohio State has had conversations about the possibility of eliminating sports: "We haven't gone to that level of depth, but of course those discussions have occurred, But we haven't gone to that level of depth."
  • He says it's unrealistic to play while wearing masks.
  • Smith says even if Ohio State didn't play football this fall, there's a possibility winter sports would play beginning in January. On the possibility of Ohio State and Oregon flipping the years they play games: "Rob (Mullens) and I did not talk about that." He says he hasn't thought much about it. But... "I'm not so sure I would do that" because OSU would have fewer than seven home games in 2021.
  • Smith said he is hopeful all 12 football games will be played. If it gets to the point of canceling non-conference games, Smith would consult with Ohio State's legal team on whether the "force majeure" clause in those contracts would apply.
  • "Our kids want to play." He says even if there were only eight games in a season, he thinks they'd want to play a shortened season.
  • "If we can't put the kids in a position to play in a safe way, then all the other questions are moot." 
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