It changed the offseason workout schedule drastically, and threw off the acclimatization process of the class of 2020.
Recruiting was also turned on its head as off-campus recruiting was prohibited, forcing coaches and recruits to connect over video conference if they wanted to communicate “face to face” and many players in the 2021 class signed with colleges they had never visited.
Additionally, the NCAA granted everyone on the roster in 2020 an extra year of eligibility if they choose to use it, and more than a few veterans across the country seem to have taken opportunity to give it one more go at a new school.
On top of that, undergrads now are able to change schools once without having to sit out a year, making transferring early in one’s career more appealing if things get off on the wrong foot.
With all that in mind, Ohio State losing 15 players since the 2021 season-opening game after having 13 transfer out in the previous two-plus years starts to make more sense, but Day indicated he would still prefer it not be that way.
“Our goal is always to recruit high school players and develop them while they’re here,” Day said. “If it works, then they get on the field. If it doesn’t — not that I like it, but there’s an opportunity for some people to find other places to play.”
Six members of the 2020 class have already transferred along with two members of the 2021 class.
Meanwhile, attrition has also been high in the classes of 2018 and ‘19.
Ten of the 26 players to sign in ‘18 have left, the most of any class since at least 2000. That 38 percent transfer rate trails only the 2019 group, which has so far lost seven of its 17 members (41 percent) to transfer.
While those players arrived before the pandemic, some no doubt had their development set back by the disruptions of 2020. That might have played a role in a high number of members of the 2021 class jumping into the depth chart upon arriving last year and ultimately led to some of the transfer decisions.
The transfer portal, which went into effect in the middle of the 2018 season, also has no doubt played a role in the increase in exits even if its impact was delayed at Ohio State.
It makes transferring easier (or at least less mysterious and/or daunting) because players who enter it may communicate freely with coaches from other schools rather than assess their options via backchannels as they did before, but Day has made clear he does not want to over-rely on that potential pipeline of talent.
“We really haven’t spent a lot of time focusing on the transfer portal because I think if you want to sustain the program for a long period of time, I think recruits and their families, when you talk to them about the plan for them to develop in your program, they want to see that happen,” Day said. “And they really don’t want to see a transfer come in and jump somebody in line.”
When there is a clear need, though, Ohio State has used the portal to fill it.
The biggest example is quarterback Justin Fields, who transferred from Georgia in January 2019, but offensive lineman Jonah Jackson, running back Trey Simon and kicker Noah Ruggles have all made big impacts after joining the program as veterans.
“We’ve had our fair share of transfers, but but it’s not something we want to rely on,” Day said.
“I think you’re being a little bit disingenuous if on the front end you’re talking to your families and your recruits about the opportunity to play at Ohio State and then just go try to get the best player out in front of him. That can create some hard feelings. Now, if it’s appropriate, we’ll do that.”