The speculation, debate and conversations about Ohio State never end, and Lettermen Row is always ready to dive into the discussions. All week long, senior writer Austin Ward will field topics about the Buckeyes submitted by readers and break down anything that’s on the minds of the Best Damn Fans in the Land. Have a question that needs to be tackled, like the one today about Ohio State and what comes next after the abbreviated spring camp? Send it in right here — and check back daily for the answers.
The obvious one to me is how will the athletes continue training? I guess I’m less worried about them getting sidetracked with trouble with everything shutting down.
— Jess 🅾️☕️💫🥂 (@Buckeyetxgrl2_0) March 16, 2020
Some of the math is easy right now for Ohio State.
The Buckeyes work with a roster designed for 85 scholarship players, and that alone puts them over the current ban of gatherings over 50 people without adding in the coaching staff, trainers, managers and everybody else involved with simply putting together a practice in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
That part of the equation is simple. Figuring out how long this situation is going to last? Certainly that’s far more complicated, but it’s a virtual certainty that it will extend past the scheduled end of spring camp and probably nearly to June.
For a group with a legitimate shot of winning a national championship, then, that means the pressure is now on every individual member of the roster to handle his business the correct way. It has to be something of a strange feeling for guys who play the preeminent team game, who build themselves through grueling workouts they share with each other and who have built a Big Ten dynasty through their full-hearted belief in brotherhood to currently have the success of Ohio State boiled down to solo work. But the coronavirus disruption has forced the program to shut down the practice facility and the weight room, and it’s going to reveal plenty about how these Buckeyes handle adversity.
It’s also going to reveal just how deeply engrained the culture is at Ohio State, because it will be quite clear when it’s safe for football to resume who was actually continuing their training at the level Mickey Marotti taught them. The Buckeyes don’t waste time on the practice field, and while a full shutdown is obviously a unique circumstance and some re-acclimation will be necessary, there’s no question that they’ll be expected to report back ready to go — whenever that moment actually arrives.
Now, it’s not actually fair to think those guys can independently match the same level of intensity, competitiveness and development when they aren’t around the Woody. That’s one reason that initially it seemed like it would be a good idea to leave the facilities available to the Buckeyes, potentially allowing some semblance of normalcy, allowing players to organize unofficial workouts and possibly keep feeding them at the training table. But as the spread of the disease has continued, it looks like athletic director Gene Smith was right to shut it down and remove the temptation from a bunch of high-achievers who absolutely would have gathered en masse to keep the ball rolling for next season.
There has to be some acknowledgement that no players in the country will return in August at the physical level they expected or the program envisioned. It’s simply not possible, no matter how strong the work ethic is for leaders like Justin Fields, Josh Myers or Jonathon Cooper. The Buckeyes only were able to complete three spring practices in camp, they are going to have summer-workout time dramatically cut and their true priority has to be simply remaining healthy in isolation instead of surviving Marotti’s conditioning program.
That creates another challenging factor for the NCAA in this fluid formula. How much time will the Buckeyes and the rest of college football get back before August to make up for lost practices and workouts? What’s the best way to balance the playing field across the country since not everybody was on the same spring schedule? What is necessary to ensure that college athletes are ready to play such a physically demanding sport by September?
None of those answers are clear right now, and they probably won’t be a for a while. But in the meantime, there will still be work to do if the Buckeyes are planning on getting back to the College Football Playoff. And it will be up to them on their own to stay as close to championship-level shape as possible until then.
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