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Ohio State, Gene Smith Considered Going Independent in 2020

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As all of college football was figuring out how to approach the new the COVID-19 landscape last fall, one Big Ten school was keeping options open when the conference began making it more difficult for the program to navigate.

The Big Ten almost didn’t have college football due to the pandemic and concerns over safety. The conference initially canceled the fall sports season on Aug. 19, 2020, but reconsidered and brought football back for a shortened fall season in September 2020.

The conference ultimately came back and scheduled its games to finish before the Dec. 20 Selection Day for the College Football Playoff, and it arguably paid off. OutKick’s Clay Travis played a major role in setting up the phone call between Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren and former President Donald Trump, which centered on the conference’s return to play for football season.

In response to a public records requests, Ohio State produced documents — obtained by 247Sports’ Patrick Murphy and Chris Hummer — that show e-mails and text messages regarding the COVID-19 landscape from leaders in the Buckeyes program.

According to these documents, Ohio State considered going independent after the Big Ten announced football wouldn’t be played.

Nebraska, another Big Ten team that opposed the conference decision, publically explored this option but never acted.

ESPN analyst Desmond Howard — a Heisman Trophy winner at Michigan — said on the morning segment “Get Up” that Warren should demand an apology from Nebraska.  

“If I’m Kevin Warren right now, I’m working on a way to get their ass out of the Big Ten,” Howard said. 

But clearly, Nebraska wasn’t alone.

Records obtained by Murphy and Hummer show Buckeyes Director of Athletics Gene Smith and the program were trying to play football in the fall — and definitely not the spring.

Murphy reports that Ohio State couldn’t depart the conference status for one year, but in a text message between Smith and an unidentified sender, the AD said he was “trying to understand our contracts and if we can play independent this year.”

Smith followed that message by saying he “just challenged the league on it,” and after speaking with Warren, “we cannot play this fall.”

After saying on Aug. 11, 2020, that Ohio State should “vote no” on a spring start to the season and “delay until sept 26th or Oct 1,” Smith said the Buckeyes were “embracing spring” and that head football coach Ryan Day was on the subcommittee to design a spring model, Murphy reports.

Despite all the pandemic challenges, the Buckeyes went undefeated in the regular season, won the Big Ten, beat Clemson in the CFP semifinals but eventually lost to Alabama in the national championship game.

Written by Meg Turner

Meg graduated from the University of Central Florida and writes and tweets about anything related to sports. She replies to comments she shouldn't reply to online and thinks the CFP Rankings are absolutely rigged. Follow her on Twitter at @Megnturner_ and Instagram at @Megnturner.

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