In a year that the Ohio State football team has been forced to make sacrifices just to have the opportunity to play a shorter schedule, the Buckeyes received more disappointing news on Wednesday when the university – in accordance with the stay-at-home advisory issued by the Columbus Department of Health – determined that family members would no longer be able to attend Ohio State athletic events this fall, including Saturday’s game against Indiana.
While Ohio State is planning to reevaluate that decision prior to the final home football game against Michigan on Dec. 12, it means the Buckeyes will be playing in an almost completely empty stadium on Saturday, while their parents will be forced to watch their sons play from home.
That’s been a tough pill for Ohio State’s players, coaches and their families to swallow, Ryan Day acknowledged during his weekly radio show and his subsequent press conference on Thursday. But it’s also just one more variable they have to work through in a season that’s been unlike any other.
“There’s certainly been a lot of disappointment over the last few months, and this is another one,” Day said. “I know all the families are disappointed they’re not gonna be able to see their sons play, and it’s hard. Families of the coaches and everybody else. It’s one of those things where it’s hard, but at the same time, we gotta be strong. We gotta help support these guys, and make sure that we’re strong for them, and I think we’ve done a really good job this week of rallying our guys together.
“But it certainly has been a unique time. And I know these guys, they do miss their families, and they miss being around each other. I think they miss having fans in the stands, and feeling what it sounds like to score a touchdown, to win a game and to sing Carmen in front of the entire student body, and all those things that come with it. So it’s just been one of those, it’s been the most strange year in our country’s history, and this is just another one of those disappointments. So we’ve got to try to handle it the best we can.”
Day admitted after Ohio State’s last home game against Rutgers that he believed the Buckeyes’ second-half struggles happened in part because there was “no juice in the stadium,” and now that players won’t even have family members in attendance – in addition to the absence of the general public, The Best Damn Band in the Land, cheerleaders and everyone else who haven’t been allowed to attend any games this season – it’s going to be even more important for Ohio State to find ways to bring its own energy.
Of course, both Ohio State and Indiana will have to adapt to playing in such a quiet environment, so as Day has often said about the variables that have come with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Buckeyes just have to handle it better than their opponent.
“I think it was different when we were in there and we had friends and family there. I think having an empty stadium is gonna be just one more thing. But when you’re on the field and you’re rolling, you really gotta just focus on the game, bring your own energy,” Day said. “We knew again that there was gonna be different obstacles along the way, there was gonna be more adversity that comes up, and here’s another one.”
With regard to whether family members could be allowed back in for the final home game, Day said he is leaving those decisions to Ohio State administrators and public health officials – keeping his focus on football and preparing for the next game – but he trusts that they will make the decision that is ultimately in the best interest of the players and their families.
“When you’re getting ready to play in a big game like this, so much attention has to put on preparing for the game, and so I’m really leaving that up to the officials, the administration and people like that to inform me what’s going on so that I can inform our team and get ready to play this game,” Day said. “But I hope that it’s being evaluated every day, and try to make the best decision for the health of the student-athletes which is the No. 1 concern here. That is the No. 1 concern, and then it goes from there.”
”We gotta help support these guys, and make sure that we’re strong for them, and I think we’ve done a really good job this week of rallying our guys together.”– Ryan Day
As challenging as this year has been for the Buckeyes, Day believes that they have grown from the adversity that they’ve faced and that the life lessons they’ve learned will stay with them for the rest of their lives.
“There’s been so many life lessons that have happened since March about perseverance, about pain, about adversity, about ups, about downs, about work ethic, moments with themselves, and I just think when they’re 10-20 years down the road and something like this comes in front of them, they’ll handle it like adults,” Day said. “They’re more mature and stronger than they were a month ago or six months ago. And as hard as this has been, I know they’re learning a lot. It certainly hasn’t been easy, hasn’t been easy on their mental health. It’s been tough. But I know that we’re gonna be stronger coming out of it.”