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Potential spring season loaded with complications, questions

Harry Miller-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football
Ohio State offensive lineman Harry Miller is waiting for his shot to play. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Ohio State Football

Potential spring season loaded with complications, questions

COLUMBUS — There’s no such thing as a bad idea if it gets Ohio State back on the field again.

There might some that are impractical, a few that don’t add up when trying to account for player safety and maybe even some that simply wouldn’t even be worth the effort.

But with the Big Ten and the Buckeyes both having officially accepted that there won’t be any games this fall, the brainstorming session for the spring is well underway — and the clock is already ticking to try to nail down the details.

“I’m sure there will be a lot of back and forth here,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said on Wednesday. “But in my opinion, I’ve met with our staff and met with [athletic director] Gene [Smith] on this, I think starting the first week of January would be the best way to go. An eight-week season, and that way there is some separation between that season and the next season. It would allow some of the midyear guys to come in and possibly play a two-for-one, two seasons in one calendar year, which I think the recruits would be really excited about.

“That’s kind of the focus right now, trying to put this plan together, button it up and work towards getting it implemented.”

Gene Smith-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith is fully focused on the spring now. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Day isn’t the only one searching for solutions at this point, and Purdue coach Jeff Brohm also has drawn attention to a blueprint he designed for a season that starts in late February and includes a shortened schedule next fall. Considering how disjointed the cancellation process was in the league and the public disagreements from coaches around the league while pushing for a delay, it should go down as encouraging that Day, Brohm, Jim Harbaugh and James Franklin are taking a more proactive approach his time.

There will be no perfect solution, that much isn’t really up for debate. And it’s absolutely possible that the spring might not work out, either, because there are a number of potential complications even if COVID-19 is no longer as much of a threat as it is now.

“Up until [Tuesday, spring] was not an option for me relative to my mindset,” Smith said. “But Ryan and I just spent some time talking about the possibilities and I’m embracing it. I’m trying to come up with a strategy for the spring, and I think it’s more realistic for me today than it was yesterday — or even this morning. I want to give our kids a chance to play. That’s my battle.

“I lost this battle, but now I have another opportunity to have another battle. That’s how I’m looking at it. I don’t quit, I’m not quitting.”

The next fight won’t be any easier for Ohio State.

Just for starters:

  • The NCAA will have to determine what to do about about eligibility status for returning players while also figuring out what to do with scholarship restrictions as the Class of 2021 signs to join the program. The Buckeyes have a sizable contingent of players who are planning to enroll early, and that will only make it more important for there to be guidance on the expanded roster.
  • The weather in Big Ten Country is far from ideal in January and February. There’s no way the league could make Wisconsin or Minnesota host games in their home venues during that stretch, and it’s also not really doing programs any favors if they can’t ever practice outside. College football has been reluctant to embrace the proven-success of bubbles because it means acknowledging that athletes are different than the rest of the student population, but it will almost certainly need to play games in domes around the midwest to pull off a season.
  • Will there be a national championship on the line? Despite the insistence right now that the SEC, ACC and Big 12 are going to try to play, it’s highly unlikely that it will actually be able to start and finish a season in these circumstances. And not having the entire Power Five playing at the same time devalues the whole enterprise since there would be no true national champion. If somehow those leagues do follow through and somehow get through their schedules, would only competing for a conference title be enough incentive for Big Ten players? Maybe it would be, but it would feel a little hollow.
  • Is the NFL going to help by moving back the draft? For most schools around the league, this isn’t really a dealbreaker. But for a team with double-digit future pros like the Buckeyes, that’s going to be a major factor in deciding how many players would be willing to play in January instead of leaving school to prepare for the next level.
  • After preaching health and safety for the players, it would be a difficult pill to swallow if the Big Ten turned around and asked them to play at least 18 games in one calendar year. Day’s plan does allow for an extended layoff, and that’s perhaps workable — although it would rely on being able to start practices by December. Brohm’s plan has less flexibility and probably not enough off dates during competition to make it feasible if contact-tracing protocols are in place. So, maybe more than anything else, figuring out the wear-and-tear issue might be the biggest challenge of them all.

That’s not a complete list of factors, of course. But simply addressing those issues alone is going to be a major headache, and it’s a clear reminder that there is still an incredible amount of work to be done to get Ohio State back on the field.

And it’s also why Ryan Day is going up-tempo and trying to come up with solutions as soon as possible.

“We’re talking about a bunch of different things right now,” Day said. “We’re just going to keep pounding away at this thing.

“I think we need to get on this right now and give these guys some answers.”

The chance to play again is several months away at the earliest. But the Big Ten doesn’t have any time to waste if the spring is going to avoid the same fate as the fall.

Austin Ward

Austin Ward is Lettermen Row's senior writer covering Ohio State football and basketball. The award-winning journalist has covered the Buckeyes since 2012, spending five of those seasons working for ESPN after previous stints at the Casper Star-Tribune and Knoxville News Sentinel.