Since the Big Ten announced Tuesday that it was postponing its fall sports to the spring of 2021, many people – including former Ohio State coach Urban Meyer – have been skeptical that a spring college football season can actually work.
Current Ohio State coach Ryan Day, however, believes there’s a way it can be done.
If playing in the spring meant starting in March and playing a full 12-game schedule, Day wouldn’t be in favor of it. That, coupled with a full season in the fall of 2021, would be asking young football players to play too many games in too short of a timeframe – the reason why Meyer and many others are concerned about a potential spring season from a player safety standpoint.
Day believes a spring season is feasible, though, if the Big Ten can start games in early January and play an eight- or nine-game schedule.
“Our staff, we’ve met on this with Gene and I think that starting the first week of January would be the best way to go,” Day said. “And that way there is some separation between that season and the next season.”
While any form of a spring season will be far from ideal, there are several reasons for Day, Ohio State and other Big Ten football programs to push for it to happen. Beyond the obvious incentive of giving their players an opportunity to play during the 2020-21 academic year, an entirely lost season could also have significant recruiting ramifications – there already might be if the ACC, Big 12 and SEC move forward with playing this fall – while creating a backlog on the roster if all players were to receive an additional year of eligibility.
“We have to play in January, February and March for that very reason,” Day said. “So that’s why we’re gonna work really, really hard and keep our focus on that.”
Who exactly will be playing for the Buckeyes if they play in the spring remains uncertain. Players who are planning on entering the 2021 NFL draft could decide to leave Ohio State now rather than spend another year on campus for a season that still may or may not happen, while Day said he will also push for midyear enrollees in the recruiting class of 2021 to have a chance to play immediately if there’s a spring season.
For that reason, Day is pushing for the Big Ten to come up with a plan for spring football as quickly as possible so players are able to make informed decisions on whether they should stick around.
“I think we need to get on this right now and get these guys some answers,” Day said. “It’s gotta be weeks, it can’t be months.”
It’s uncertain how exactly a season starting in January would work – especially considering the weather in Big Ten country that time of year, though Penn State coach James Franklin suggested the possibility that games could be played in dome stadiums in Detroit, Indianapolis and Minneapolis – and what exactly Big Ten teams would be playing for, as the postponement of the College Football Playoff to spring would likely only happen if all Power Five conferences play in the spring.
Day said he is “certainly not giving up hope” on that possibility, but he believes at least having the opportunity to play for a fourth straight Big Ten championship would make a spring season worthwhile.
Beyond figuring out what the structure of the spring season will be, Big Ten teams will also need to have a sound plan for the fall so that they can continue to develop their players – particularly their younger players – to be ready to play in early 2021.
As of early afternoon Wednesday, Day said Ohio State hadn’t yet received any direction from the Big Ten on how to proceed forward this fall. Day said Ohio State’s plan is to have the weight room open for players to work out at their own discretion for the rest of August, with hopes of being able to resume on-field work in September and conduct padded practices this fall if it is safe to do so.
Ohio State’s coaching staff will be putting together individualized plans for every one of their players to try to help each of them improve this fall despite the lack of a season.
“There are some guys who are into their last year and looking to play in the spring and then go onto the NFL draft,” Day said. “There’s other guys who just got into the program, who really haven’t had a spring ball that need development. So each guy’s going to have an individualized plan on how they’re gonna get better and improve their skills. We’re talking about a bunch of different things right now. But in the next few days, I think we’ll really button everything that we have planned for the fall.”
Because they aren’t currently practicing, Day said Ohio State football players will only be tested once a week for COVID-19 instead of twice a week for now, but players will continue to be provided meals and have access to team facilities and resources like tutoring and mental health services.
Day acknowledged he does have some concerns about whether players will follow health and safety protocols as stringently as they have been now that they don’t have a fall season to look forward to.
“I think the maturity of our team, the leadership of our team and our character and makeup will keep us from having a major problem in that area, but I can’t sit here and tell you I’m not concerned about that,” Day said.
The potential to play a spring season doesn’t erase the heartbreak of being unable to play a traditional season this fall, but it does give the Buckeyes something to still work toward, and that’s where Day is trying to keep his focus and encouraging his players to do the same. While he knows the disappointment from Tuesday’s decision isn’t going to leave his team quickly, he wants them to keep moving forward rather than dwell on the decision that’s been made.
“We’re going to have to be strong and work through adversity and stick together in the end. And our culture’s all built on fight. And we’ve got to fight to stay strong,” Day said. “But you don’t just wake up the next morning and everything’s fine. Not when you invested this much time and effort into it, it’s not fine. It’s devastating. So it’s gonna take some time to heal. But as we keep putting one foot in front of the other, we’re gonna get going again.”