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Uncertainty swirls as Ohio State shuts down voluntary workouts

Justin Hilliard-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football
Ohio State linebacker Justin Hilliard reported for voluntary workouts last month. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Ohio State Football

Uncertainty swirls as Ohio State shuts down voluntary workouts

COLUMBUS — The shutdown has returned to Ohio State.

Perhaps it was inevitable, especially when it comes to a contact sport like football. There were always going to be positive COVID-19 tests anticipated in the return-to-play model, and even the most optimistic projections for playing this season involved protocols for dealing with the pandemic.

Ohio State still isn’t revealing how many players have been impacted by its latest round of testing, and in the wake of shutting down voluntary workouts on campus on Wednesday, it’s probably time to reevaluate that policy since virtually every other program is contributing that information publicly. Either way, the Buckeyes aren’t hiding from the fact that the situation was risky enough this week for them to lock the doors on the Woody Hayes Athletic Center indefinitely — again.

“The Ohio State Department of Athletics has paused all voluntary workouts on campus following the results of its most recent COVID-19 testing of student-athletes,” Ohio State confirmed in a statement. “Seven teams’ workouts are affected by this pause: men’s and women’s basketball, field hockey, football, men’s and women’s soccer and women’s volleyball. The university is not sharing cumulative COVID-19 information publicly as it could lead to the identification of specific individuals and compromise their medical privacy.

Kerry Coombs-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Ohio State defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center last month. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

“If a student-athlete tests positive for COVID-19, he/she will self-isolate for at least 14 days and receive daily check-ups from the Department of Athletics medical staff. Student-athletes living alone will isolate in their residence. If they have roommates, they will self-isolate in a designated room on campus. The health and safety of our student-athletes is always our top priority.”

Nobody can deny that the program has gone above and beyond in trying to protect the Buckeyes. But as coronavirus has proven in virtually every corner of the country and with every sports league that has tried to return, even the best efforts at cleaning facilities and testing athletes and requiring masks haven’t stopped the spread in some capacity.

Maybe it wouldn’t make any difference if Ohio State revealed exactly how many positive tests it’s dealing with right now. But there’s a massive difference between potentially hitting pause on the return out of an abundance of caution following a few positive tests or possibly dealing with a massive outbreak, and it doesn’t do the Buckeyes any favors by trying to hide that information.

If college football is going to be played this season, the testing protocols and results are going to have to be shared across the Big Ten and conferences across the country. That’s not really negotiable if everybody is going to be on the same health page. Ohio State has traditionally shown itself to be a cutting-edge program in almost every conceivable way, but it’s on the wrong side right now with secrecy only exacerbating the uneasiness around a college football season this year.

Multiple sources have indicated to Lettermen Row that the Big Ten is likely heading toward a shortened, conference-only schedule, a result that has been likely for months even when the pandemic outlook was trending more optimistic. But it’s impossible to deny that the Buckeyes shutting down the Woody is a step in the wrong direction, and their status as one of the true powerbrokers in the sport will cause every other program to do a double-take as it tries to figure out what to do this fall.

Nobody truly knows the best course of action right now, so perhaps it’s not fair to criticize the current handling of the situation at Ohio State since it’s doing what it believes is best for its athletes. But without actually knowing what’s happening, how is anybody supposed to know that for sure?

All that’s left for now is more uncertainty, and Ohio State has only added to it.

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.