The immediate future of Ohio State's season now hangs in the balance.
On Friday evening, football team activities were put on pause for an indefinite amount of time and Saturday's game at Illinois was canceled due to an increase in COVID-19 cases.
To explain what's going on, the trio of head coach Ryan Day, athletic director Gene Smith and team physician Jim Borchers joined the media for a Zoom press conference on Saturday morning.
A bullet-point rundown of their comments:
- "It's been a very, very emotional and difficult week for everybody in the program."
- On the lack of positives before this week, he says he "couldn't have been prouder of how our entire organization has handled it."
- "Our focus really, right now, is to keep everybody safe." He says they'll put the focus on Michigan State soon.
- Day says players will self-isolate for 10 days, then they will go through the protocols of getting back to playing, which includes cardiac testing and getting back in shape.
- He says meetings were made to be virtual this week, and they didn't put helmets on or go "body on body" the final three days this week. He says they kept masks on the entire time.
- Day said he believes the Buckeyes “could get it done” if they were able to return to practice Thursday.
- He says he has an "extremely heavy heart" with this happening. "I can't sit here and tell you it's anything other than really, really hard." He says "nothing about this is good" but it's going to make those in the program tougher. "I really believe that going through all this is going to make us stronger."
- He says he wants to think Illinois AD Josh Whitman, Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren, the partners at FOX and Ohio State president Kristina Johnson.
- "This is our reality. We're struggling as a community to stop the spread of COVID-19." He says having "definitive guidance" through this process is difficult.
- Smith says Ohio State did not hit the Big Ten threshold that would have necessitated a program shutdown, "but the positivity rate was concerning enough where we felt we needed to pause."
- He says Ohio State had an "unbelievable run" of minimal positive tests.
- Smith says the goal is to put together a plan to "potentially come back to compete next weekend."
- He thanks Larry Johnson for stepping into the role as interim head coach.
- Smith says there haven't been conversations with the Big Ten about getting rid of the six-game minimum required for the Big Ten championship. "I get the question. I'm very sensitive to that. But that's not where we are. We made a decision late last night to do what we did." Important to note: He does say that might come up in future discussions. Doesn't rule it out.
- Smith on what needs to happen for Ohio State to play Michigan State: "I think we need to continue to test and see that there's no more positives that occur. We need to make sure that we're working with our conference office that they're confident in what we're doing." He says they need to make sure they're playing "on a clean field."
- Friday evening, Smith says, it became apparent that the program needed to be paused.
- He says it's "kind of fluid" when Ohio State gets back to the practice field. "There's too much uncertainty." He mentions there's probably a point where they wouldn't be able to compete, but he'd defer to Day.
- Asked when Ohio State can get back into the facility: "We don't know. The approval process us us. It's not like we have to get approval from the Big Ten or anyone else. It's us."
- Smith says he doesn't think any Big Ten has hit the thresholds to force a shutdown. In Ohio State's case, they're seeing "community-type spread."
- On the Illinois game: "Could we have played? Sure. Was it the right thing to play? No."
- On Day: "I just want to thank Ryan. I can't begin to share with you how hard his job is. I can't. I think most of you who are with him every week, you get it. But I can't tell you how hard his job is, particularly now. It's beyond describing."
- He says Franklin County "has been struggling" with the increase of positive cases outside of congregate homes, which has challenged Ohio State to "maintain the health and safety of our student-athletes."
- Borchers says Ohio State football had "essentially no cases" of COVID-19 until this week.
- On the people who have tested positive: "They're all doing very well. They're at home. They're convalescing well." He says nobody has required extra treatment, and they're hopeful those who tested positive will return.
- Borchers says Ohio State has implemented "aggressive contact tracing."
- "I want to be clear: We never reached a threshold where we couldn't participate or practice until yesterday afternoon." He says this "is something that happened later in the week."
- He says Ohio State didn't have coronavirus concerns until Wednesday. "Certainly not enough to make us pause on Wednesday," but enough to put certain protocols in place. Not until yesterday, Borchers said, did it become "very clear" that they needed to pause the program.
- Borchers said Ohio State went beyond the 7.5% population positivity rate threshold yesterday, but has not gone beyond the 5% test positivity rate threshold. If the Buckeyes go over both, they'll be forced to pause for seven days.
- He says there has been "no pattern" identified between those who have been tested positive. No specific position group has been hit harder than others, he says.
- Borchers says Ohio State will be driven by the data. "We'll try not to forecast what that data will be because that gets us into trouble."
- Borchers says the expectation was that as programs near thresholds, they'd take into account the safety and consider shutting down, which is what happened.
- "My hope is we're going to get our student-athletes back to competition as soon as possible."