COLUMBUS — Gene Smith understands the magnitude of the situation and the threat the COVID-19 outbreak poses to Ohio State and everyone in collegiate athletics.
Personally, Smith made up his mind early on that the Big Ten and NCAA needed to cancel their basketball tournaments before that decision was made, and he stood firm on that stance.
He was in Big Ten meetings Wednesday, where the athletic directors made recommendations to Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren. When the cancelations ultimately happened, Smith knew the conference made the correct calls.
“Obviously this is uncharted territory for us as an institution, let alone an athletic department, and of course the Big Ten Conference and the NCAA association,” Smith said. “I just want to make sure everyone understands that all the measures that are being implemented is to hopefully prevent a significant community burden on our healthcare system. Typically, we always think of a disease as it relates to an individual. What we need to do is think of it from a community perspective.”
Amid the global pandemic and the rapid spread of COVID-19 through the United States, Smith began to feel like the Buckeyes were going to be putting a halt to athletics Monday.
He was right.
Smith worked tirelessly on the phone with Ohio State’s administration, the Big Ten and the NCAA to make sure he and the university were taking correct measures to combat the coronavirus. Now that the NCAA has canceled all men’s and women’s tournaments and championships through the remainder of the spring, Smith took some time to speak to the media.
Lettermen Row is breaking down What We Learned from Smith as the Buckeyes are taking an athletic hiatus.
Buckeyes close all athletic facilities
Ohio State was ahead of the curve when it suspended all face-to-face recruiting operations Wednesday afternoon. The NCAA followed suit and implemented a recruiting dead period Friday. The Buckeyes, like most universities around the country, are taking extra precautions to make sure they don’t contribute to the spread of COVID-19.
All athletic facilities will be closed, and Gene Smith feels it’s only right for the athletic department to close its doors during this concerning time.
“We have already disease-bombed the [Woody Hayes Athletic Center],” Smith said. “We’ll continue to do that, as well as the other facilities, basically trying to kill bacteria. So, the reality is we just felt we needed to make sure we didn’t encourage any voluntary group activities.”
The Ohio State athletic department wasn’t ordered to close the Woody Hayes Athletic Center; it could have kept it open for athletes to train. But Smith only felt that was right to make sure the coronavirus can’t make its way into the facility most of the athletics programs use.
The only facility that will remain open for the athletes is the student-athlete psychological facilities, which will be available for athletes who are remaining around the Columbus area and may need to use them. Otherwise, Smith said the athletic department is following the lead of the university in sending a message to athletes to go home as the university shifts to online-only classes.
Decision to cancel sports was tough, but needed
Although Smith feels like this was the best decision to cancel all athletics moving forward to prevent the spread of the virus, he is aware of the price it comes with and that student-athletes are impacted by the cancelations.
“That was hard,” Smith said. “That’s the knot. That’s the gut. That’s the thing that is the hardest part of all that. And that’s when you get yourself trapped constantly in that process of making that decision. Even into Wednesday and Thursday into conversations, you still go back to that.”
Now Smith, other athletic directors and the NCAA are all looking for ways to give a year of eligibility back to athletes who had their seasons cut short or canceled entirely due to the pandemic. That’s just one of the ways Smith thinks the NCAA can give back to the athletes after a tough ending to the semester at Ohio State.
But even with the hurt that comes with canceling the athletics, it had to be done.
Ohio State not thinking too far ahead
Ohio State knows all spring sports are canceled and spring football is postponed until at least April 6. Smith and the athletic department are trying to take everything day-by-day and not think too far into the future. The Buckeyes aren’t even thinking about the possibility of a canceled football season, as unlikely as that outcome could be.
“I haven’t thought that far — we’re dealing with today,” Smith said. “We’re trying to make sure we adhere to the institutional policies and requests.”
As of now, there won’t be any football in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center this spring. There won’t be any baseball at Bill Davis Stadium or tennis on campus. It was a correct measure to cancel the sports, but that doesn’t make it easier.
Gene Smith is trying to take everything day-by-day during the pandemic.