For more than 20 years the Big Ten football media days in late July have been a reminder to me that two great seasons are approaching.
One is fall, possibly the best season the Midwest has to offer. The other is the college football season.
In a normal year, I would have been in Chicago on Wednesday and Thursday at Big Ten media days. But they were canceled two months ago because of the spread of the coronavirus. And this is obviously not a normal year.
In a normal year there would have been a lot of questions in Chicago for Ryan Day about Ohio State’s chances to win the national championship and about the possibility of Justin Fields becoming the Heisman Trophy winner.
In a normal year Jim Harbaugh probably would have gotten a little defensive about one or more questions he was asked. Or at least more defensive than Michigan has been against Ohio State in giving up 62 and 56 points the last two seasons.
New Michigan State coach Mel Tucker and first-year Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren would have been fresh stories.
But this summer the questions dominating the conversation are if there will be a football season and what it might look like if there is a season.
At the moment, uncertainty over the immediate future resides permanently in the minds of the decision makers at every level of football — college, high school and the NFL. And it is the same for players, their families, fans and anyone else with a connection to the sport.
There could be a full season or there could be no season. There could be a season that starts late or there could be one that is stopped after a few games if the coronavirus surges in some areas or players begin to test positive in significant numbers. There could be a season that begins in the spring, though that is probably the most unlikely of all the options.
One afternoon this week I changed my mind three times in two hours about what might happen this football season.
Some people with more information than I have seem to change their minds, too.
During a July 9 teleconference, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith sounded pessimistic about playing football this season. “I’m very concerned. I was cautiously optimistic. I’m not even there now,” he said.
On Wednesday, he was more upbeat during an interview on the Bishop and Laurinaitis Show on 97.1 FM The Fan in Columbus. He said he expects Ohio State to start fall training camp on schedule on Aug. 7 and talked about the possibility of playing a game as early as Sept. 5 on a rearranged schedule.
Smith also said the Big Ten athletic directors have had no discussions about canceling the season or moving it to the spring.
Ohio State shut down voluntary workouts for football players and athletes in six other sports for six days on July 8 after several unidentified athletes in unspecified sports tested positive for the coronavirus. Workouts resumed on July 14.
All those athletes were in a more controlled environment than they would be if students return to campus for in person classes for the fall semester on Aug. 25 as scheduled. Smith said that obviously presents a new situation but one he thinks OSU’s players will handle carefully because they want to have a football season.
“Our challenge is they’ve got to go back to their crib. So that’s a whole new ballgame. Fortunately, our athletes have embraced policing one another. I’m really proud of our kids,” he said during his radio interview.
If I were making a prediction right now, I think most of the elite football schools like Ohio State would like to try to start the season in September. But if the trajectory of the coronavirus makes that appear to be too dangerous, it won’t happen.
During his July 9 teleconference Smith said science would be the biggest factor in OSU’s decision making progress going forward. “First and foremost we’re going to follow the advice of our medical experts,” he said.