Ohio State coach Ryan Day said he’s exploring ways to get his football team on the field as quickly as possible, including a spring season that begins in early January and wraps up before the NFL draft in late April.
Day, speaking to reporters just one day after the Big Ten postponed the fall football season, said the planning process for a spring season must begin immediately. He said he thinks the Big Ten could begin play in early January with an eight- or nine-game schedule and, even with postseason play, end before the NFL draft.
Day’s plan would allow NFL prospects — such as Buckeyes quarterback Justin Fields — to play the season in college, and he wants incoming recruits who enroll mid-year to be eligible for a spring 2021 season.
Day said he spoke to athletic director Gene Smith earlier Wednesday about any possibilities of playing a fall season. Smith confirmed to ESPN on Tuesday that Ohio State would not pursue playing in another league this fall.
“We’re still exploring all those options,” Day said. “This thing is moving. It’s changing. And we are looking at everything, I promise you that.”
Day added later: “Some of the things Nebraska has asked about are things we continually ask about as well. We play nonconference games year in and year out, so, in this unique situation, we’re just trying to find out what exactly the conference’s stance is on this, what it means with TV contracts and everything else. We’re asking all those questions.”
Day reiterated that Ohio State’s preference was to wait until late September to attempt to play a fall season.
“I’m very, very proud of what we did here,” Day said. “Our people felt strong about … it’s not a bubble, but it’s close to it here, that we created for our guys. It was a lot of hard work put into it.”
Day’s main focus is the spring season, which he admitted was not a focal point until the Big Ten made its decision Tuesday to postpone the fall season. He said a plan for the spring has “got to be fast.”
“What is fast?” Day said. “It’s got to be weeks. It can’t be months. We’ve got to start it as soon as we can.
“I’m sure there will be a lot of back and forth here but … starting the first week of January would be the best week to go, an eight-week season. That way, there is some separation between that season and the next season. We get some mid-year guys to come in and possibly play a two-for one, they’d get two seasons in in one calendar year, which, I think the recruits would be really excited about. That’s the focus right now.”
Day will push hard for mid-year recruits to be eligible for a spring season as well as the fall, saying that it should only cost them one total year of eligibility because both seasons would occur in the same calendar year. He also said a January start enhances the appeal for draft-eligible players to play a final season with their college teams.
A later start to the season would be more challenging for several reasons.
“If you play a full schedule starting in the spring, like when you get into March, now you’re asking for trouble,” Day said. “But if you play an eight- or nine-game season, push it back to January, then that’s real. It’s important — the number of games and also the start date.”
Day expects teams from conferences moving ahead with fall football to contact Ohio State’s players about potentially transferring, but he doesn’t see “how that would be possible or even safe” for players to switch teams weeks before a potential season.
He described “an awful meeting” Tuesday when he and Smith informed players about the postponed season, and said the pain and frustration would take some time to subside for players.
Ohio State gave players the day off Wednesday and will remain in a discretionary period of team activity.
“You work your whole life for an opportunity to coach a team like this,” Day said. “This team is special. It’s special because it’s talented. It’s special because it has leadership. It’s special because of the character. It could have been a once-in-a-lifetime team.
“This quarantine, this virus, was not going to get in their way.”