As they prepare for a season of Ohio State football games that will be unlike any other, Gene Smith and several other Ohio State staffers met with the media on Monday afternoon to discuss the university's game day protocols for the 2020 season.
The Ohio State athletic director was joined by OSU deputy chief of police Tracy Hahn, assistant athletic director of event management Ericka Hoon and assistant athletic director of ticketing Brett Scarborough to detail Ohio State's plans for safely hosting games at Ohio Stadium this season – beginning Saturday at noon against Nebraska – and to share reminders with Ohio State fans about how to stay safe amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
A bullet-point roundup of what each of them had to say:
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith
- Smith said Ohio State wants to encourage people not to host large gatherings that could become superspreader events. OSU is also encouraging people to continue wearing masks, practicing social distancing and practice good hand hygiene.
- On the importance of having a season so Ohio State would have a chance to compete for a national championship: “It's such a relief to be here, to know that we have a chance to play, and we're just hopeful that we're able to perform and ultimately get in the postseason like we dreamed of.”
- Coaches will not be fined for improper mask wearing by the Big Ten, Smith said. It will be up to the individual schools to ensure that everyone on the sidelines adheres to proper protocols.
- Ohio State will continue to release a status report of unavailable players on Friday.
- Smith said most of his trepidation now is about the actual football on the field itself and how Ohio State will perform, not about the protocols surrounding the game.
- Smith said the Big Ten “will continue to evaluate what's happening in other states“ on a weekly basis, but they feel that every school should be in the same boat, which is why fans aren't being allowed at any games right now. “We want consistency across the board.”
- Smith said he never thought he would have to learn about the difference between 70 and 85 decibels, but he's had to because of the Big Ten's crowd noise rules.
- Smith said the Big Ten decided as a conference that parents and families of players were the highest priority, so stadium capacity requirements wouldn't make it possible for teams around the conference to have marching bands at the games right now. If stadium capacity requirements loosen at Ohio State, the marching band would be the next priority.
- On playing in an empty stadium: “It's going to be weird all the way around.”
- Ohio State will travel to Penn State the night before, not day of game. There had been discussions earlier about same-day travel due to the ongoing pandemic, but Smith says they're comfortable with staying in hotels the night before the game now.
- On the preparation to play this season: “Once we were able to get the presidents to allow us to play, there was nothing after that that was challenging at all.” Smith said getting the schedule together was hard, but operationally, nothing was hard once they knew there'd be a season.
- Smith said Ohio State players will stay in an off-campus hotel on Friday nights, but they will spend more time at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center on Friday afternoons and will return there on Saturday mornings. Practically, he believes that will end up being beneficial for the players, because they won't have as many operational things to deal with before games, and he wondered aloud whether gameday operations could be different next year as a result of what might work well last year, though Ohio State will resume traditions like Skull Sessions once things get back to “normal.”
- Right now, Ohio State plans to fly to every game, though Michigan State is still to be determined. The planes will be bigger so middle seats can be open, and the team will send two buses to road games rather than just one so that players can be distanced out.
- Ohio State basketball players have already started daily testing, and Smith said he feels good about where the Big Ten is in its preparations for basketball season to start next month.
Ohio State deputy chief of police Tracy Hahn
- “The message from the police department is please stay home. Don't come to campus to tailgate, please.” Hahn said Ohio State will have a police presence around campus to enforce no tailgating.
- Hahn said anyone who is caught at the stadium who is not supposed to be there will receive a warning initially. If there are any issues with people not leaving campus after being warned, further actions could then be taken.
Ohio State assistant AD of event management Ericka Hoon
- “We're sorry that we don't get to welcome more people, but we're grateful that we get to host games for our team and our student-athletes.”
- Hoon said Ohio State has had to make sure everyone on staff understands the timing in which things need to be done and the new protocols they have to adhere to this year to make sure everyone stays safe.
- Hoon said guests of players and coaches will enter through the same pass gate that they normally would. After the games, there will not be a meetup between players and parents.
- Hoon said most of the gameday protocols were agreed upon at the conference-wide level by the various subcommittees on the Big Ten's Return to Competition Task Force.
Ohio State assistant AD of ticketing Brett Scarborough
- All fans at games – which will be only guests of home and visiting team players and coaches – will be seated in pods that are separated from one another. Fans will separated across seven sections.
- Ohio State has sold more than 4,300 fan cutouts so far.
- Ohio State is allowing football players to transfer tickets that they are not using to other players who want to have more than four guests.