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Facing a fall without football, Ryan Day focuses on what's next

No one east of Nebraska pounded the table harder for the Big Ten season to be played than Ohio State. Justin Fields was among the group of players who founded the We Want to Play movement, and Ryan Day joined Scott Frost in swinging hardest toward Big Ten headquarters.

There is a reason for that. No one had more to lose by a canceled season than Ohio State. The Buckeyes, coming off a 13-1 season and a No. 3 ranking, believed 2020 was their year to win a national title.

"As a coach, you work your whole life for an opportunity to coach a team like this. This team is special," Day said Wednesday. "It could have been a once-in-a-lifetime team."

That was the driving force behind Ohio State's intense lobbying, but it still wasn't enough. An entire calendar year will pass without a Buckeye football game for the first time since 1888. (Ohio State football was founded in 1889.) Or... is it?

Day implied in a Wednesday teleconference that Ohio State had not totally put away the idea of playing football games this fall.

"Gene (Smith) and I talked at length about this," he said. "We’re still exploring all those options. This thing is moving and changing. We are looking at everything."

We know at this point Nebraska would at least be willing to hold an unsanctioned Big Ten game, but it's unclear what Big Ten rules permit at this point. There are games to be had -- especially at the Group of 5 level, where the remaining conferences are pressing forward with full or close-to-full schedules at this point -- but it would take a number of deep conversations between Day, Smith and Ohio State's administration on if games against the Middle Tennessees and the Temples of the world are defying the Big Ten office.

And that's if there aren't legal obstacles standing in the way that would make the idea a complete non-starter.

Setting that aside, Day said he woke up Wednesday laser-focused on preparing for what's next, and that's playing in the spring. "I think starting the first week of January would be the best way to go and (have) an eight-week season," he said.

Day said he wanted early enrollees to be eligible to play, and wanted clarity from the Big Ten office on whether current players would have to use an eligibility in a spring season. It's widely assumed Fields and his future millionaire teammates would skip a spring season, but Day said Fields would like to see what a spring season would look like before making his pre-NFL draft plans. "It's got to be weeks," Day said on feedback from the Big Ten. "It can't be months."

While Ohio State will not compete on the field this fall, competition is ongoing on the recruiting trail. The Buckeyes' 2021 class is rated No. 1 nationally, and the program currently has four commits in its 2022 class.

Ohio State would be at an extreme disadvantage if the SEC, ACC and Big 12 find ways to play this fall and the Big Ten doesn't play at all in the academic year.

That's why, the morning after his first mission failed, Day moved on to the next one -- a spring season, whatever that entails.

And what has he heard from the conference office in the hours after canceling the season?

"There's been nothing that's come from the Big Ten about moving forward."