Thursday afternoon brought news of the Big Ten's plans to play only conference games in the fall of 2020 - if the conference is able to participate in fall sports at all. Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith has been rather optimistic in the past about playing a full football season and doing so in front of perhaps 20,000 fans at Ohio Stadium. But his tone was far more dire Thursday as he expressed significant concern on the immediate future of college athletics.
“I am very concerned,” Smith said, when asked about playing fall sports in general. “I used to be cautiously optimistic, but I’m not even there now. When you look at our trajectory with the virus, we are either the worst country or one of the worst. We wanted September available to use to provide flexibility and control to handle disruptions.”
"I think people need to start understanding we may not play this season," Smith said on Big Ten Network Thursday afternoon. "We just may not. That's a reality. I know people don't want to hear that but we just may not play."
Ohio State has not yet determined if they'll allow the student body to return to campus for the fall semester, let alone play varsity sports.
"People need to follow the protocols and give our kids the chance to compete," he continued.
It certainly wasn't anyone's first desire, but Smith says the move to playing only Big Ten games gives everyone the best chance to move forward under a uniform set of rules. It also gives them maximum flexibility to juggle a potentially challenging schedule.
So far, each school in the league has been acting on it's own to determine if they can operate safely. There hasn't necessarily been a consensus opinion among schools on an appropriate risk appetite for the virus spreading among student-athletes. Smith told the media today that it's too early to tell exactly what the conference-level threshold will be before things would be shut down. But there has to be some minimum level of accepted risk, acknowledging that the virus is present and could spread.
As for playing a potential 10-game season, Smith says "I'm hopeful that that's where we end up." He says that number of games is the "preference" of the conference. But he also said he is no longer concerned with post-season ramifications associated with this change. "I just want to give our kids a chance to play."