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How Buckeyes helped lead charge to save Big Ten season

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Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields and coach Ryan Day fought for their season. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Ohio State Football

How Buckeyes helped lead charge to save Big Ten season

COLUMBUS — Ohio State wasn’t working alone.

And, just for the record, the Buckeyes certainly weren’t just fighting just for a national title and their own personal interests.

But make no mistake about it: The Big Ten wouldn’t be playing football in October without Ryan Day and Ohio State.

Yes, Nebraska proved to be a worthy ally, with that program working in lockstep to apply public pressure on the Big Ten. For a moment, Jim Harbaugh was on the same side as the rival Buckeyes. Penn State coach James Franklin, the Iowa athletic department and Wisconsin’s Barry Alvarez all refused to back down as tireless grinders in the push to bring football back.

The Buckeyes, though, were leading the charge.

And while nobody in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center will want to take any credit for what has transpired over the last five weeks, they certainly deserve a tip of the cap from anybody and everybody invested in a return to football. Ohio State will no doubt instead focus on the conference-wide decision that was ultimately reached and simply celebrate that the emotional rollercoaster for the players is now over, but the program’s work shouldn’t be ignored.

The fact that he wasn’t the only coach involved doesn’t change the fact that Ryan Day refusing to stop swinging was absolutely critical in the public-relations battle. Or that Gene Smith and Kristina Johnson kept up their administrative support when many presidents and chancellors were willing to simply kick the can to January. Or that Dr. James Borchers emerged as the leading voice for the safe return of the support. Or that the Football Parents at Ohio State were willing to rally twice to pressure the Big Ten to answer their questions about the lack of transparency, once in Chicago and once at the Horseshoe. Or that Justin Fields almost single-handedly changed the tenor of the conversation with a petition that was signed over a quarter-million times shortly after he posted it.

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Ohio State parent Gee Scott Sr. was part a rally in support of a fall season. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

That’s not a comprehensive list, by the way. But that should drive the point home about just how relentless the Buckeyes were in helping save the Big Ten from what could have been a disastrous long-term decision from the league to sit on the sidelines all year.

“This was a conference decision,” Day said on Wednesday. “One thing I’ve learned from being in this conference is that we all need each other. With the conversations that I’ve had with some of the other coaches, you know, daily conversations with James Franklin, daily conversations with Pat Fitzgerald and Paul Chryst and different guys in the conference, we all need each other. I think we all did a great job of galvanizing and coming up with a great plan.

“The information I got when everything changed was the daily rapid test. Once that changed, that was the game-changer for us. I just can’t say enough about how the subcommittees got together and worked really hard to get this all put together since that came out. That to me was the game-changer.”

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Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith maintained his support for the Buckeyes. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

That development was obviously crucial, but it doesn’t fully explain the turnaround since this wasn’t just a come-from-behind victory. The game clock hadn’t merely expired, the Big Ten presidents and commissioner Kevin Warren had unplugged the scoreboard and locked the doors to the stadium when it reiterated last month that it wasn’t planning to revisit its decision to postpone the fall slate.

But the Buckeyes didn’t quit. The Huskers didn’t either, nor did Iowa, Penn State, Wisconsin or certain parts of the Michigan program.

All of them deserve credit for fighting for their players to at least give them a shot at doing what they love. It’s true the plan probably isn’t perfect, and the Big Ten is surely going to need a little luck to get through the jam-packed, nine-games-in-nine-weeks slate it will unveil in the coming days.

The league is at least willing to try now, though. And that might just be the biggest win of the season for the Buckeyes.

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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.