Teleconference Bullets: Gene Smith Talks Big Ten's Conference-Only Schedule, Dwindling Optimism for Football This Fall

By Colin Hass-Hill on July 9, 2020 at 5:15 pm
Gene Smith

The news dropped on Thursday afternoon, and Gene Smith addressed it shortly thereafter.

Ohio State's athletic director spoke for more than a half-hour about the Big Ten's decision to move to a conference-only schedule, his optimism about football being played this fall and more.

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

  • Gene Smith says he's talked to all three athletic directors of the non-conference opponents Ohio State this season: "We've agreed to talk in the future" to see if they can reschedule each of the games.
  • He says it's too early to know whether the home Ohio State-Oregon game will be played in 2021. He plans to talk with Oregon's athletic director next week.
  • He says they're working off of a two-month budget that has been approved by the Board of Trustees. As they get a better understanding of the future, they'll make a more definitive long-term budget.
  • Smith says he'll talk to the ADs of Buffalo and Bowling Green next week to talk about whether the payments for their games will go forward or not.
  • On his level of concern of fall sports being played: "I'm really concerned. That is the question of the day." He says he was cautiously optimistic the last time he spoke, and he's not there anymore. Smith mentions how they were on a downward trajectory in May, but now "if not the worst in the world, one of the worst in the world." He says Franklin Country is on Level 3 and on a trajectory to Level 4 on Ohio's Public Health Advisory Alert System.
  • He says they want to have September available for conference games to be played then. 
  • "People need to follow the protocols and give our kids the chance to compete."
  • Smith says the virus needs to be managed differently than it is right now. He also notes they're taking advice from medical opinions within the Ohio State community and the Big Ten.
  • "We haven't begun to engage in true practice." He says they'll have some guidance from the NCAA. Says they'll have to wait and see.
  • Smith says there would probably have to be some level of acceptance of risk if sports are played this fall, but he doesn't know how that'll be determined.
  • Next week, he says, the Big Ten will get into how the football schedules will work.
  • Smith says they talked about "a number of different things over time" before settling on a Big Ten-only schedule. They got to the point where they were wondering about whether they could realistically have a football season, and, Smith says, it came naturally to end up with a conference-only schedule. 
  • The flexibility of moving games up to September and shift them around is a big benefit, Smith says. "We can be nimble. We can adjust." That was the biggest reason for a conference-only schedule. They can pause the schedule or move games around. "The flexibility, I can't say that enough, is significant."
  • "I trust that our colleagues that we would compete against in the non-conference would have safety and the health of their student-athletes at the top of their priority list just like we are." He says they're familiar with the hotels, visiting locker rooms, operations and everything, so there can be standardized protocols that can be put in place among Big Ten programs.
  • Smith says they'll look at what they currently have scheduled and determine whether they can keep the order of games intact. They have to figure out how many games they want to pre-schedule, among many other considerations.
  • He also notes Week 0 is available for games to be played. 
  • Smith doesn't concern himself with getting on the same page with other conferences for CFP purposes: "I just want to give our kids a chance to play." 
  • He doesn't know when the season will begin, but the decision has to be made in a timely fashion in order to maintain the six-week preparation window. 
  • On a 10-game conference schedule: "I'm hopeful that that's where we end up." He says that number of games is the "preference" of the conference.
  • Smith on the possibility of fans in stands: "That has a little bit more time, a little bit more flexibility than the schedule issue." He says if you watch the behavior and see the spike, "we're not in a good place," so he'd have a hard time doing something different than CDC guidelines in terms of the amount of fans in the stands.
  • He says the Big Ten hasn't talked much about the possibility of spring football. "Right now, that's not a high priority for us."
  • Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren has been having ongoing conversations with the television networks.
  • Smith says you have to go "day by day, week by week," so there can't be a decision made about when practices will start yet. "It's too difficult for me to speculate at this point in time."
  • "We have to do some work on our budget. We've got a lot of work to do as we ultimately make some decisions."
  • He thinks some "new behaviors" will be created moving forward. He thinks the management of expenditures will change.
  • Smith on the possibility of sports being cut: "At this point in time, we're avoiding that." He gives the same answer when asked about pay cuts for coaches.
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