Despite all the uncertainty that has surrounded the 2020 college football season for the past five months, Ohio State’s football players and coaches have continued to work toward trying to compete for a championship this fall.
When spring practices were shut down after just one week in March and players were sent home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they continued to find ways to work out on their own – Ohio State tight end Jeremy Ruckert, for example, built his own squat rack – so that they could stay in shape.
Since early June, they’ve been back in Columbus participating in workouts at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center – even though the rest of the student body is still away from campus – in an effort to be as prepared as possible to play this season. Even on Monday, as speculation increased that the Big Ten could pull the plug on fall sports, Ohio State was on the practice field preparing for a season it hopes will happen.
Amid an offseason that’s been far from normal, Ohio State coach Ryan Day said last week that he believes his team is as prepared as ever to contend for a title if it gets the opportunity to play this fall.
“I promise you our leadership has kept this team hungry, and I think we’re training right now at a championship level,” Day said.
Ohio State director of sports performance Mickey Marotti, who oversees the Buckeyes’ workouts for most of the offseason, expressed a similar sentiment in a tweet on Monday.
I wish everyone could see our players over these last 3 months, the last 3 days, and especially the last few hours. Never been so proud of a group of men !!!!! Ridiculous leadership, unbelievable energy and relentless fight !!!! All in order to play the game they love !! BUCKEYES— Mickey Marotti (@MickeyMarotti) August 10, 2020
Yet it’s possible that work could be for naught, at least as far as playing football in 2020 is concerned, if the Big Ten opts to cancel fall sports or postponed them to the spring of 2021 – a decision that could come as soon as Tuesday morning, according to ESPN’s Heather Dinich, though the conference is also still reportedly considering only delaying the start of the fall season for now.
As many Ohio State players made their pleas to save the season in social media posts on Sunday and Monday, the amount of work they have put in all offseason to prepare for this season – while being told the Big Ten would do all it possibly could to try to allow them to play this fall – was a regular theme in their tweets.
Theres been too much work put in!! #WeWantToPlay— Justin Fields (@justnfields) August 10, 2020
No one understands all we put in. Since January, 3 Mat drills in 3 straight days, sent home for months and built a weight room with my dad, countless hours of work with my teammates all year round. Too much has been invested. Dont know what else to say other then #WeWantToPlay— Ruck (@Jeremy_Ruckert1) August 10, 2020
A lot of sweat has been put in, and bonds were built over these last 2-3 months. Since returning we have taken all the right precautions, and the results can attest to that. What changed the last 2 days? Regardless of when, where, and how #IWantToPlay !— Garrett Wilson (@GarrettWilson_V) August 10, 2020
If people went through the hours on hours of physical, mental, and consistent hard work that us athletes go through you'd want to have a season. Let's have a season. #iwantaseason— Master W. Teague III (@MasterTeagueIII) August 10, 2020
Years of work will come down to votes from Presidents and Execs who havent even witnessed our protocols and safety measures with their own eyes. Our guys are safe. #WeWantASeason— Justin Hilliard (@JHilliard47) August 10, 2020
Weve put in countless hours of work whether it was at the facility or at home during the quarantine!! No one will understand that besides the players! We will be heard! #LetUsPlay— Gunnar Hoak (@GunnarHoak12) August 10, 2020
Knowing all of that work that they have put in to try to have a successful season, and all of the work that their coaches and program staffers have put in to try to put them in a position to have a successful season, could be the toughest pill to swallow if the Big Ten ultimately decides it’s too risky to play football until 2021.
“I think we all see the opportunity we have on the table in terms of coming back and being able to play and compete for a national championship,” Justin Fields said last week. “So kind of just seeing the opportunity we have right now has just made us work so much harder this offseason.”
Among all the players who have worked hard to prepare for the chance to play this fall, there might not be any Buckeye who would be more devastated by losing that opportunity than Ohio State defensive end Jonathon Cooper – as he made clear in a speech to his team just prior to fall camp that was posted on the team’s official Twitter account on Monday – after he took a redshirt with an ankle injury last season and worked his way back for a second chance at a standout senior season this year.
“Me getting hurt last year and not being with y’all brothers, not being here every single game, man, that hurt me way more than me not being able to go out to the club, me not being able to see my friends,” said Cooper, who described it as an “easy sacrifice” to wear a mask and social distance in order to play this season. “That’s why I’m here. That’s why I’m back.”
Ultimately, the Big Ten’s decision about whether to conduct fall sports – whether it comes on Tuesday or a later date – can’t simply be based on what players want. Their health and safety needs to be the top priority, even if they're willing to take the risk to play, which is why might decide cancellation or postponement is the only responsible move.
But the impact that decision would have on the players deserves to be considered, too, especially with all the time they've spent working toward the 2020 season believing it will happen. And with the barrage of tweets they sent over the past two days, they just might have convinced the Big Ten to keep working to give them that chance, at least for a few more weeks.