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Still more questions than answers surrounding college football season

COLUMBUS — During much of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, questions have far outnumbered the answers.

That’s especially true as it pertains to the upcoming college football season.

Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith has basically heard them all multiple times, but he simply doesn’t have a definitive answer for any of them. As of yet, anyway.

During a nearly 60-minute teleconference with media on Wednesday, Smith did definitively say that early July is the timetable in his mind for having the schedule finalized.

“I don’t think we need to rush this,” Smith said. “Everyone is anxious to do that, but we need to have the opportunity for our medical experts to continue to collect data and see how our human behavior responds.”

The NCAA gave clearance to colleges to re-open their facilities for football, men’s and women’s basketball earlier this week. Ohio State has announced its Woody Hayes Athletic Center and Schumaker Center will open to football players — on a voluntary basis — on June 8.

“It’s all a process,” Smith said. “We’re having a lot of conversations (with other athletic departments) and at the start (of the pandemic), none of us really had a position, but we’re shifting to being curious on a lot of things.”

Since each state is making the determination as to when and how it re-opens following the pandemic, Smith knows there will have to be a lot of patience involved before things are totally ironed out.

Ohio State’s football schedule features schools from 10 different states, including a Sept. 12 game at Oregon.

“Obviously, we have to look at this state by state,” Smith said. “We can’t just consider what’s happening in Ohio, but all other states. And, from my view, that may take all of June to make those determinations.”

With due respect to the annual game with Michigan, the meeting with the Ducks, which is a rematch of the 2014 CFP Championship game, is the marquee game on the Buckeyes’ schedule.

However, Oregon’s status remains in a state of flux because the state’s governor, Kate Brown, came out earlier this month and said there should be no large gatherings at events, including sports.

Shortly after that announcement, Smith found himself on the phone with Oregon Athletic Director Rob Mullens.

Since it’s a two-year contract and the Ducks will visit Columbus in 2021, some have suggested simply flipping the home games. According to Smith, that was never discussed when the two spoke.

“I just called him a few days after their governor made her announcement seeking some clarity,” Smith said. “We didn’t talk about (switching home games).”

Smith went on to say flipping the dates would not be as easy as it sounds because it would throw the Buckeyes’ 2021 schedule off and give them only six home games.

Another idea that’s been floated by some conferences is playing only conference games. Smith would be on board with such a move if it means playing as close to a full schedule as possible.

“It would be challenging, but if we could work out a nine or 10 game conference schedule, I would lean toward that,” Smith said. “I would feel better with 10 (games), so it’s an even split of five home and away games.”

Currently, the Big Ten member schools play nine conference games.

Regardless of how it happens, Smith simply believes football needs to happen and he said that with the players in mind.

“This is the last opportunity for some of these young men,” Smith said. “We’re going to do whatever can to give that chance. We will bend over backward to give them that chance.”

As much as Smith thinks about the student-athletes, he also knows that football is a major revenue source for the athletic department, which offers a nation-best 36 varsity sports.

Smith is hopeful that some fans are permitted to come into the stadium. Though the Horseshoe’s 100,000-plus capacity may not be reached for any of the seven games, Smith feels they could get about one-fifth of the venue full.

Regardless of what decisions are made, they’re all going to boil down to the health and safety of the student-athletes.

“If we can’t put the kids in a position to play in a safe way, the other stuff is moot,” Smith said. “If we’re able to do that, things can roll from there.”

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