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What We Learned as Ryan Day, Buckeyes start planning next step

Justin Fields-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football
Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields found out the season was canceled on Tuesday. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Ohio State Football

What We Learned as Ryan Day, Buckeyes start planning next step

COLUMBUS — The pity party for Ryan Day is already over.

The Ohio State coach is obviously still hurting over the decision to cancel the fall season, and that feeling probably won’t go away for a while.

But with the Big Ten decision in the books, there’s nothing Day can do to change it. So, his attention is already shifting to what comes next for the Buckeyes, and he’s already exploring every possible option to help his program.

“You don’t just wake up the next morning and everything is fine, not when you invested this much time and effort into it,” Day said during his Wednesday press conference. “It’s not fine. It’s devastating. It’s going to take some time to heal, but as we keep putting one foot in front of the other, we’re going to get going again.

“It hurts. I have a range of emotions — sad, angry, frustrated, all of the above. And I think our players do as well. … [Tuesday] was a tough day for all of us, and we woke up this morning with really our focus on what’s next. That’s really focusing on the spring and the spring schedule and working on the plans for moving forward in the fall and the different options that are available.”

The Buckeyes are still waiting for a full picture of what that all entails. But Day offered some early insight on what the program is thinking, what it plans to implement and how it would like the proposed spring schedule to work during his conversation with the media on Wednesday afternoon. Here’s what Lettermen Row learned from the Ohio State coach.

Ryan Day-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Ohio State coach Ryan Day has vowed to fight for his team. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Ohio State isn’t completely shutting door on fall games

The season is gone for the Buckeyes, and it’s not coming back. But is it possible to potentially play a few one-off games against other teams in the league — or perhaps scrimmage against willing opponents like Penn State or Nebraska?

Perhaps the odds of that remain relatively long, but that’s a question the program is at least still asking the Big Ten at this point.

“That’s a fluid situation,” Day said during his Wednesday press conference. “[Ohio State athletic director] Gene [Smith] and I talked again this morning at length about this. We’re still exploring all those options. Yesterday, you guys kind of grabbed him walking out of the facility, maybe at a bad time. But this thing is moving, it’s changing. And we are looking at everything.

“We’re trying to explore every option possible. We owe it to our kids to do that. I can’t get into specifics because there are a lot of unknowns, but we’re asking all the questions and we’re pushing the envelop as much as we can. Making sure that it’s safe to do so, but we’ve got to make sure we turn over every stone.”

Buckeyes favor January start to spring schedule

There are dozens of complications to staging a spring season in the Big Ten, with everything from cold weather to NFL defections to simply trying to cram two schedules into one calendar year adding to the degree of difficulty.

But if the Buckeyes get their preferred plan in place, the league would be looking at a January kickoff coming on the heels of continuous training this fall.

“I’m sure there will be a lot of back and forth here,” Day said. “But in my opinion, I’ve met with our staff and met with Gene 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.”

Ohio State working on specialized workout plans

The Big Ten dropped the news on Tuesday afternoon, and the decision didn’t come with a playbook for what comes after cancelling a fall season. One staff member suggested there was “zero” guidance from the league about how to proceed with workouts or practice plans, which obviously creates a challenge in the short term as Day and strength coach Mickey Marotti try to keep the Buckeyes prepared for such a physically demanding sport.

For example: Will Ohio State be able to have spring-camp style practices in pads at some point? That’s a key question that will have to be answered just like figuring out what to do with scholarship numbers once the roster adds signees from the Class of 2021.

“This fall for us, each guy is going to have an individualized plan on how we’re going to improve them,” Day said. “We have such a range of different guys in the program. There are some guys who are in their last year and looking to play in the spring and then go into the NFL Draft. There are other guys who just got into the program and really haven’t had a spring ball and need development. Each guy is going to have an individualized plan on how they’re going to get better and improve their skills. We’re talking about a bunch of different things right now. We’re just going to keep pounding away at this thing.”

Jeremy Ruckert-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Ohio State tight end Jeremy Ruckert could face an interesting decision about his future. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Will Buckeyes be impacted by transfers?

Ryan Day expects phones will be buzzing to try to raid his roster. But Ohio State and Big Ten teams likely shouldn’t expect to suffer much attrition, because transferring at this point in August presents numerous challenges.

First of all, there’s no guarantee that instant eligibility would be granted since a competitive opportunity is still expected to be provided by Big Ten institutions in the spring. Secondly, most rosters are already full across the country with camps in other leagues already underway. And perhaps most important, it’s still hard to envision that full seasons are even going to be possible in the leagues still trying to play given the continued presence of COVID-19 and stringent contact-tracing protocols.

“No, I’m not [worried],” Day said. “I’m sure that there are going to be schools that reach out to our players, because we have great players. But I don’t see how that would be possible or even safe for someone to just go at this point and play in a few weeks — certainly not safe to go try to learn an offense and go to a new place and everything like that at this moment. Just trying to get a waiver and everything in a short period of time, I don’t think so. And that’s why we have to keep working towards this model of playing in January and put that schedule together to give it to the guys and start working towards it.”

NFL decisions get trickier for top Buckeyes

There is no need for an immediate decision from the top NFL prospects for the Buckeyes. But their situations have certainly become more complicated by the lack of a fall season, and their choices may come down to what kind of schedule the Big Ten can put in place and some help from the professional ranks.

If the NFL Draft is moved back a month or two and the Buckeyes are able to start playing in January, perhaps future first-round picks like Justin Fields might at least consider suiting up for the program again.

“Well, I think you’ll have to ask Justin that,” Day said. “But in our conversations, I think Justin wants to see what the schedule is and I think it’s our job and we owe it to these guys that we get a schedule and put a plan together quickly so that someone like Justin can plan on his next year, the next few months. There was a report that the NFL would consider maybe moving the NFL Draft back, and us having a winter season or a spring season or however that works out, I think we need to start in the first week of January to allow players like Justin the opportunity to play in the season and also get himself ready for the draft. I think we need to get on this right now and give these guys some answers.”

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.