Ohio State sports teams won’t be playing any non-conference games this fall.
The Big Ten announced Thursday that all of its fall sports, including football, will play conference games only this season due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, as first reported by The Athletic’s Nicole Auerbach.
“We are facing uncertain and unprecedented times, and the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes, coaches, game officials, and others associated with our sports programs and campuses remain our number one priority,” the Big Ten’s statement reads. “To that end, the Big Ten Conference announced today that if the Conference is able to participate in fall sports (men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, football, men’s and women’s soccer, and women’s volleyball) based on medical advice, it will move to Conference-only schedules in those sports.
“Details for these sports will be released at a later date, while decisions on sports not listed above will continue to be evaluated. By limiting competition to other Big Ten institutions, the Conference will have the greatest flexibility to adjust its own operations throughout the season and make quick decisions in real-time based on the most current evolving medical advice and the fluid nature of the pandemic.”
The Big Ten’s announcement notes that the conference is “also prepared not to play in order to ensure the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes should the circumstances so dictate.”
As a result of conference-only scheduling, Ohio State’s first three scheduled games of the 2020 football season against Bowling Green, Oregon and Buffalo will no longer be played. Ohio State was set to pay $1.2 million to Bowling Green for its Sept. 5 season opener and $1.8 million to Buffalo for a Sept. 19 game at Ohio Stadium. The Buckeyes’ trip to Autzen Stadium was set to be the first leg of a home-and-home series, with Oregon set to play at Ohio State in 2021.
It’s uncertain whether Ohio State will still be required to make those payouts or if those games will be rescheduled for future years. Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said in May that he would defer to Ohio State’s legal team on whether the force majeure clauses in those contracts would apply if those games were canceled.
It is not yet clear whether the rest of Ohio State’s schedule will remain intact or whether the conference-only schedule will be reworked entirely, but ESPN reported “there is overwhelming support for a 10-game conference-only schedule,” as opposed to the Big Ten’s regular nine-game schedule. Ohio State is currently scheduled to open conference play at Ohio Stadium against Rutgers on Sept. 26 and conclude the season against Michigan on Nov. 28.
It’s also unclear how the schedule change will affect the eligibility of Big Ten fall sports teams to participate in the postseason, including the College Football Playoff. As of now, no other FBS conference has announced changes to its football schedule for the 2020 season, though it is expected that others will follow suit.
Per Thursday’s announcement, ”Big Ten student-athletes who choose not to participate in intercollegiate athletics at any time during the summer and/or the 2020-21 academic year due to concerns about COVID-19 will continue to have their scholarship honored by their institution and will remain in good standing with their team.”
The Big Ten also announced “that summer athletic activities will continue to be voluntary in all sports currently permitted to engage in such activities.” The NCAA’s Division I Council had previously approved a plan for college football teams to be allowed to begin required workouts next week, but that was contingent on the season starting on Sept. 5. Ohio State’s voluntary workouts were paused for the time being on Wednesday following an unspecified number of positive COVID-19 tests.
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith is scheduled to speak with reporters at approximately 4:30 p.m., so stay tuned with Eleven Warriors for further updates on this story.