BuckeyeGrove - Day, Smith urge ongoing adherence to social distancing
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Day, Smith urge ongoing adherence to social distancing

Ohio State Athletics Director Gene Smith encouraged those who plan to watch Big Ten football to do so responsibly.
Ohio State Athletics Director Gene Smith encouraged those who plan to watch Big Ten football to do so responsibly. (Associated Press)

Mark Sept. 16 on calendars, because that day will be remembered for being the one when the Big Ten Conference announced the return of football.

But not so fast, don’t let any sort of guard down just yet.

“We’re going to need your help, to be quite honest,” Ohio State Athletics Director Gene Smith said. “We’re going to need help to try and encourage people to follow the protocols. I would ask you to have that social consciousness with us.”

In just about five weeks, football teams in the Big Ten will join the ACC, Big 12 and SEC in playing Power Five football.

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One important factor in the return to play on the gridiron will be the overall health of the players and staff, but for the return to be smooth, fans and individuals alike will remain tasked with doing their part in staying healthy and doing what they can to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“When we start playing games, even if we had a small number of fans in the stands, I think you all know that there will be watch parties everywhere,” Smith said. “Those are super spreaders.”

Ohio State and the Big Ten Conference understand there will be get-togethers come time for kickoff. It’s what football fans have done for years.

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But under current circumstances, Smith wants those to be cognizant and responsible when partaking in large gatherings.

“Whether or not you believe it, you are influencers in this space,” Smith said. “Try and encourage people wherever they are, large gatherings, watching games and all that excitement, to do it responsibly. We’re going to need your help.”

At the center of the return to play are the players themselves, who will be tested every day. But more critical will be positivity rates within surrounding communities, which goes beyond just players and staff.

“The Big Ten will require student-athletes, coaches, trainers and other individuals that are on the field for all practices and games to undergo daily antigen testing,” the Big Ten stated Sept. 16. “Team test positivity rate and population positivity rate thresholds will be used to determine recommendations for continuing practice and competition.”

Furthermore, continued practices and games will be determined by team and population positivity rates using a stoplight system. Population positivity rates will follow green (0-3.5%) and orange (3.5-7.5%) as the levels of which teams can continue football engagements, but red (>7.5%) will prompt teams to halt activities and follow the Big Ten's protocol.

"Team must stop regular practice and competition for a minimum of seven days and reassess metrics until improved," the Big Ten stated.

Head coach Ryan Day echoed similar sentiment to Smith regarding what he and the football team will do to ensure they will go forward without many hiccups.

“The minute you get into the daily antigen testing, according to what Dr. Borchers and the medical subcommittee have reported to us, that ensures a clean field and a clean building,” Day said. “We’ll certainly still continue to be smart and social distance and use our masks.”

Smith shouted out the Ohio State Interfraternity Council and Greek system for adopting and encouraging limits on the sizes of gatherings.

According to The Lantern, approximately 228 Ohio State students were given interim suspensions in late August for being at gatherings of more than 10 people, although it was unspecified if those suspended were attending fraternity or sorority gatherings.

“They have embraced the idea of trying to do that," Smith said "Thankful that they as a group have come forward to help.”

There are many moving parts that contribute to the return and function of Big Ten football, and their importance was emphasized by Smith, Day and the conference.

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It will be a continued group effort to continue to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and flatten positivity curves. But hard, determined work can yield fruitful rewards.

“Looking forward to get back to work, to do things that we love, coach football, play football,” Day said. “I know our guys are really, really excited as well.”