Gene Smith: Ohio State athletes could be allowed back on campus June 8

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COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith says he’s eager to get student athletes back to campus with the option to work out at campus facilities, but the long term goals of playing sports, particularly football this fall, appears more challenging.

“I’m not 100% comfortable yet. You constantly get educated around the virus, different tactics you can employ from a safety point of view… I am hopefully, cautiously optimistic that I’ll reach 100% comfort level, but I’m not there yet.” Smith says medical experts have to provide the parameters for how they can play the game, and he says still early in that process because medical experts are still learning about the virus.

Smith spoke to reporters Wednesday as the NCAA D-I Council was voting on a plan to allow student-athletes to return to their respective campuses for voluntary workouts. The NCAA voted to allow football players as well as basketball athletes the opportunity to return to campuses as soon as June 1st to begin offseason workouts. Smith says OSU plans to open its facilities to players June 8th, but adds the Big Ten and OSU also need to approve of that plan. Smith says the facilities at OSU, with the health and safety protocols in place there, are the best protected environment for OSU’s athletes. “We’ll have limited access to those facilities. They’ll have to sign up, go through protocols, temperature checks and things of that nature. 9 or 10 players will work out, room will be cleaned and then 9 or ten more will work out.” He says.

Smith says implanting plans for actual team practices becomes much more complicated, specifically with football.  “Football players can’t practice with masks, they can’t social distance. How do we operate the locker room? All those things have to be worked out.” Smith says he does not think football players would wear masks while playing, and he says athletes will not wear masks while they’re exercising at the team facilities.

Smith says they hope to make a plan for other sports later in the school year based on how football season unfolds. “We want to crawl before we walk and run. Football makes sense to start with.” Smith says.

Smith says the school has yet to decide how to handle the potential of a student-athlete testing positive for COVID-19. He says the OSU medical staff is working through that challenge right now. For now, Smith says OSU is most focused on the plan to have athletes on campus for training, and doing so safely. “We feel confident through our symptom checks and hygiene implementations.”

Whether games would be played without fans this fall, Smith says he’s looking at plans where Ohio State could reduce stadium capacity and potentially welcome some fans to attend. “Could we implement the current CDC guidelines about distancing in an outdoor environment and significantly less fans than we’re used to? I think It’s possible.” He says.  Who gets in?  He says OSU would need to develop a plan to allow long-time season ticket holders, as well as player and coaches families and staff a priority on tickets. He says 20-25 thousand fans would be an approximate capacity if they were to follow the CDC’s current six-feet standard for social distancing.

As for scheduling for the season ahead, it remains a difficult question to answer. Some conferences appear more committed than others to playing a football season despite the challenging health circumstances.

“It is murky and messy right now just because of everyone trying to get coordinated.” Smith says.

Smith says he’d like to have a clear plan for football practices in place in early July. “We need to not rush this. We need to have the opportunity for our medical experts to continue to collect date, see how our human behavior responds in the re-opening across the country.” he says.

Smith says summer workouts will not be as intense as usual due to the smaller groups and shorter time frames. He’s aiming for a six-week acclimation period before the season would begin.

The highly-anticipated Ohio State at Oregon game in September will likely not be played in Eugene, due to order of the Governor in Oregon. The state has banned all mass gatherings through September. Smith has talked to Oregon’s athletic director about possible schedule changes, but no new plans have emerged.

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