Presser Bullets: Kristina Johnson, Gene Smith And Ryan Day Discuss Big Ten's Decision To Start Football Season On Oct. 24

By Colin Hass-Hill on September 16, 2020 at 12:09 pm

It actually happened.

A little over a month after Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren declared the conference wouldn't play fall sports in the fall, he and the Council of Presidents and Chancellors reversed course. The Big Ten will open its season on Oct. 24.

Ohio State president Kristina Johnson, athletic director Gene Smith and head coach Ryan Day joined a Zoom call on Wednesday morning to discuss the news. Here's a rundown of their comments.

Kristina Johnson

  • "Clearly, it's a great day for Buckeye Nation." She says they "enthusiastically support" the Big Ten's decision and that "this is what we always wanted."
  • Johnson says she thanks Smith, Ryan Day and all the other coaches for all of their patience.
  • "I couldn't be prouder of our young men and women for setting examples" on the campus.
  • Johnson says Ohio State still needs to work on wearing masks and socially distancing off campus, where rates are higher, but positivity rates have decreased recently.
  • She says Ohio State is doing about 20,000 COVID-19 tests per week. 
  • The medical subcommittee recommended to "limit the density of the fans" and said it's possible that fans could be allowed at some point if data allows it without making the pandemic worse.
  • Johnson says she thinks the biggest change that led to the conference reversing course and playing this fall was the ability to secure daily rapid testing.
  • "I love the league. I love Ohio State." She says the Big Ten likes to be a leader and has been a leader.
  • "What I'm thrilled about is that we get to play for all the marbles."
  • "I do believe we will have clean playing fields with no athletes on the field who have COVID."

Gene Smith

  • Smith on Kristina Johnson: “Leading The Ohio State University in normal times as a challenge ... to come in and deal with what we were dealing with in the athletics space is a daunting task, and she's been phenomenal. I can't thank her enough for her tireless work.”
  • He says Ohio State is "excited to return to play."
  • Smith says the cardiac issue was "most prevalent" and he now thinks they have a plan to deal with it.
  • "We're in a better place regardless of how we got here." He says "that's all behind us" and they now have a process based on science.
  • He says with "this runway and this pause that we've dealt with" that the Big Ten could be in a position to play a full season.
  • Smith says they'll play one out-of-division game in the regular season.
  • He says they hope to have a schedule by the end of this week or early next week.
  • Smith says the Big Ten had some "decent intel" about whether the conference would be able to earn a CFP bid with this schedule. He says he's "not as concerned" about teams not being able to play games. 
  • This year, the playoff committee might have to evaluate more so than usual what team "has the best look" about it.
  • Smith says he agrees with the medical subcommittee's recommendation to not have fans. "Let's mitigate the risk."
  • This is a "fluid year," Smith says, which means all budget information will change significantly based on ongoing decisions. He says they'll have more clarity when they have information from TV partners and the basketball season.
  • "The emergence of rapid testing was critical." He says the setup of the Big Ten's committees was just as critical.
  • Smith says Ohio State implemented "everything" from a testing point of view and shared everything with the Big Ten.
  • Talking with television partners was "critical," Smith said. Starting on Oct. 24 gives the Big Ten "unique" TV opportunities, he said.
  • Smith on Ohio State team physician Jim Borchers, who co-chaired the Big Ten Return to Competition Task Force's medical committee: “We were blessed to have Jim Borchers in that seat.” Also praises cardiologist Curt Daniels for his efforts in addressing myocarditis concerns.
  • Smith said athletic directors are set to finalize their plan on returning to practice tomorrow morning, but he expects them to immediately return to 20-hour practice weeks.
  • He says he was with Ryan Day when he set up a Zoom call with the football team to tell them the season is starting. Johnson was the one who made the announcement, garnering applause from the players.
  • "At the end of the day, we were laser-focused" working with the medical task force. He says they were "driven" to get the medical aspect to the point where the president and chancellors signed off on it.
  • The Big Ten will announce who's providing the tests over time, he says.
  • Smith says he watched how Day led the Buckeyes during the Urban Meyer suspension. "He led it excellently. He did the same thing here." Along the path, he "never, ever wavered in his ability to lead and hold our team together." He says he wants to thank Day for that publicly. 
  • He says watch parties are "super-spreaders." Says the Interfraternity Council has pledged to help.

Ryan Day

  • "Very, very excited for our players. We're in such a stronger place today than on August 11th."
  • The players never lost faith and trust, Day said, and they "never stopped fighting." He says "the culture was never more evident."
  • The leadership from Johnson and Smith "has been strong," per Day. He also notes Jim Borchers as somebody who's been important.
  • Wyatt Davis and Shaun Wade "wanted to play" for Ohio State this fall, Day said. "If they want to play, I believe 1,000% they should be able to play." He says they'll let the two digest the Big Ten starting on Oct. 24 and make a decision.
  • Daily testing allows "a clean field and a clean building," Day says. He calls it a "game-changer."
  • Day says he doesn't have any concern about this season which he says he been "well thought out." He thinks the "sweet spot" of eight or nine games works.
  • He says it was "emotional" to deliver the news on Wednesday morning to his team.
  • The players "never wavered" and "just kept swinging" while having "faith without results" until Wednesday.
  • "Our team is stronger than it was on August 11 for going through this."
  • Justin Fields' work ethic has been "off the charts" this offseason, Day says. “What can you say about Justin Fields? The way that he's gone about his business, the way he's been a leader... I can't say enough about who he is, and the fact that he's going to have an opportunity to play with the rest of these seniors... that's all they ever asked.”
  • The week following Aug. 11 was the hardest part, Day says. "That was really, really hard." 
  • Day says he's told the players they're going to "learn a lot of life lessons" throughout this process.
  • He says he made "a million calls" to the experts at Ohio State. The daily rapid tests changed his belief about whether they'd actually be able to play football this fall. "That, to me, was the game-changer."
  • Day says he had daily conversations with other head coaches, including James Franklin, Paul Chryst and Pat Fitzgerald.
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