Even though Ohio State begins its season in just three days, Palaie Gaoteote still doesn’t know whether he’ll be eligible to play for the Buckeyes this year.
Ryan Day said Monday that Gaoteote is still waiting for an answer from the NCAA on his appeal for eligibility, though he still expressed optimism – as he did two weeks earlier – that Gaoteote will ultimately receive a waiver and be eligible to play for Ohio State this fall.
“The NCAA asked for some additional information, so I guess they’re still working it over,” Day said. “But unfortunately, we don’t have any more information, even as we’re heading into the game here. So a difficult spot for him and us as we’re waiting to hear the decision, but we’re still optimistic that we’re gonna get good news.”
Day previously said earlier this month that Gaoteote, who enrolled at Ohio State this summer and has been paying his own way while awaiting an NCAA ruling, has “done everything we’ve asked him to do” since arriving in Columbus. While he has not specified exactly why Gaoteote is ineligible, he said that Gaoteote “was in a very, very tough spot through COVID,” and Day is hopeful the NCAA will take that into consideration with its decision.
Unless news comes in the next couple of days, though, Ohio State will be without Gaoteote for at least its first game of the season against Minnesota on Thursday. Ohio State will travel to Minnesota on Wednesday, so Gaoteote would need to receive an answer from the NCAA by then in order to be included on the travel roster for the first game.
That gives the Buckeyes one less option at linebacker, and that’s a potential cause for concern, given that they are opening the year against a running back (Mohamed Ibrahim) who ranked second in the Football Bowl Subdivision in rushing yards per game last season. While it’s not clear exactly where Gaoteote would fit into the linebacker rotation if he is cleared to play, Ohio State wouldn’t have brought him in as a transfer from USC if it didn’t think he could provide an upgrade of some sort.
As the Buckeyes replace their top four linebackers from last season, they’d certainly like to have Gaoteote’s Pac-12 playing experience and five-star pedigree. That said, Day believes the Buckeyes have six linebackers who can play on Thursday even without Gaoteote.
“I feel good about Tommy Eichenberg, I feel good about Teradja (Mitchell), Dallas (Gant), Cody Simon. Steele Chambers is gonna get in there. K’Vaughan Pope will be in some different spots. We have some depth there,” Day said. “But those guys have to go in there and play and produce, because they have some big shoes to fill.”
Even if he doesn’t receive a waiver from the NCAA this week, Gaoteote could still potentially help Ohio State later in the season if he is granted eligibility at some point. Day expects Gaoteote to continue practicing with the team until he receives an answer one way or the other. Day doesn’t yet know whether Gaoteote would remain with the team if he does not become eligible to play this fall.
“We’re just kind of patiently waiting,” Day said. “If he is eligible, then he has an opportunity to be on scholarship. If he isn’t, then he has to figure out what the next step for him is. So again, we’re just kind of waiting on that.”
Fellow Ohio State linebacker Teradja Mitchell said it has been “a tough time” for Gaoteote to have to wait for an NCAA ruling without knowing whether he’ll be able to play. Mitchell says he and his teammates have tried to help Gaoteote keep his spirits up as he’s continued to help the Buckeyes prepare for the season.
“We’ve all been there to talk to him and keep his head high,” Mitchell said. “We’re hoping that we get a good decision here, so just taking it one day at a time. Just trying to work every day, just trying not to think about it.”