Autumn semester classes at Ohio State are back in session Tuesday morning, and the Buckeyes’ season opener kicks off in just a week-and-a-half, but Ohio State linebacker Palaie Gaoteote still doesn't know whether he will be eligible to play this season.
Ryan Day said Monday that the USC linebacker transfer, who has been paying his own way at Ohio State since joining the program over the summer, is still awaiting word from the NCAA despite the start of the school year and the season rapidly approaching. Still, Day said the team remains hopeful that Gaoteote will eventually be granted a waiver.
“We’re obviously optimistic, but as we’re getting ready for Minnesota, classes are starting tomorrow, we’re hoping to hear something,” Day said. “He’s been through a lot, and we’re hoping he gets that waiver.”
Why Gaoteote had to appeal for an NCAA waiver hasn't been specified, but he's still waiting for an answer more than two months after arriving in Columbus. Day said at Big Ten Media Days on July 23 that he thought Gaoteote would receive an answer from the NCAA “in a few weeks,” but more than a full month has transpired without an answer since then.
Gaoteote has practiced with the Buckeyes throughout fall camp. Although Day initially said Gaoteote would not receive first or second-team reps in team drills due to the lack of clarity about his eligibility, he was on the field with the top defensive units at the Buckeyes’ final open practice of the preseason on Wednesday, when a multitude of linebackers including Dallas Gant and Cody Simon were only limited participants.
Day said Saturday that a starting linebacker unit has yet to be solidified, even with the first game of the season looming just 10 days away.
“I think that’s a conversation we have to continue to have, and I don’t think we’re there yet,” Day said. “If you pin me down on it, I don’t think I could just give you three, because there are some guys that have been banged up a little bit here and there, there’s guys who have flashed, there’s guys who are still working through some things. So that’s an area that we’re just gonna continue to talk about over the next few weeks, hopefully get some guys healthy as we head into the middle of the week.”
When asked Monday if there were any linebackers who he was sure would be in the lineup for the season opener, Day only singled out senior linebacker Teradja Mitchell. One of six new captains for the Buckeyes, Mitchell is expected to be a first-time starter for Ohio State this season.
“Teradja Mitchell is a captain for us, he’ll be on the field in some way, shape or form,” Day said. “But the majority of those guys are gonna play. So it’ll be something that we’re gonna continue to work through, the depth of it all. But he’s one guy you’ll see for sure.”
As for Gaoteote’s pursuit of a meaningful role on Kerry Coombs’ defense, the most transparent answer might just be that the Buckeyes won’t know until the situation is resolved.
“We’ll see, we’re still waiting to see from the NCAA. We have classes starting tomorrow, so we’re kind of holding off on that because we don’t want to put him in a bad spot,” Day said. “Just waiting to hear.”