Is the NFL Laying Out a Plan That Could Keep Justin Fields at Ohio State?

If you thought the last pass you saw from Justin Fields as a Buckeye was an interception in the end zone in the final moments of last season’s semifinal loss to Clemson, you’re probably right. But for those of you who wouldn’t mind seeing some more of Fields as a Buckeye, there is apparently some hope.

We already know it won’t be happening this fall because that idea has been shot down and then while it was laying on the ground dying, it was shot several more times. Then after being buried, the fresh dirt was stuffed with dynamite and that dynamite was detonated so that there would be no rise of an undead 2020 season.

Which is why winter ball is Ohio State head coach Ryan Day’s new preferred starting point.

The current wisdom is that no NFL draft pick expected to go in the first few rounds would play in the spring, risking injury and also the workload of having to play a college season and a pro season all in the span of about 10 months.

However, Ryan Day isn’t proposing football in the spring. He is suggesting winter ball, which helps the calendar and might be enough to keep players home.

Justin Fields doesn’t need another season of college ball to lock in his status as a first-round pick, but the NFL would still rather see college players play in college at some point in the next 10 months before the 2021 NFL Draft.

Interestingly, according to Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer, who has covered the NFL for years, the league would not only welcome the idea of college football in the winter and early spring, they would do what they could to accommodate it.

“I’m told these are ideas that have been discussed by college coaches already and, notably, NFL teams would be willing to help,” Breer writes. “The Lions, for one, were approached by a Big Ten school all the way back in the spring about using Ford Field in this way. NFL teams also have discussed what it would take to move the combine and the draft back a month (potentially having the combine in early April and draft in late May) to accommodate the college game.

“Are there a lot of moving parts here? Sure. But there’s also reason for people involved to be motivated to get it done. For the Big Ten and Pac-12, this would be a shot—by playing a winter season rather than a spring season—to give their players the chance to play without totally firebombing their 2021 season, and maybe even create an option for other conferences to delay their seasons. For the NFL, it would mitigate what will certainly be a messy, messy situation for its ’21 draft class, in getting most top prospects on the field.

“And then, there’s something simpler at play. The NFL needs college football to remain the force that it is for a multitude of reasons. Having all five power conferences play, in whatever form, between now and whenever the draft happens is, without question, the best way to get there.”

Breer essentially lays out the same plan as Ryan Day. Eight games over nine weeks beginning early January, capped by a conference championship in the first week of March.

Jan. 1-2: Big Ten/Pac-12 opening weekend.

Jan. 7-8/Jan. 14-15: Big Ten/Pac-12 Thursday/Friday night games.

Jan. 23: Big Ten/Pac-12 schedule goes back to Saturday.

Feb. 6-7: Bye weekend for Super Bowl.

Feb. 28: Final week of regular season.

March 6: Big Ten title game.

March 13-20: Rose Bowl OR National playoff.

Late April: NFL combine.

Late May: NFL Draft.

In Breer’s plan, he has also built in a full postseason with the other conferences should they choose to cancel fall football as well.

Will all of this come to pass? Who knows.

What we do know is that for guys like Justin Fields and Shaun Wade, a winter plan would not have the same negative impact as a spring plan. And having the NFL in step with the Big Ten and Pac 12 every step of the way would be a bonus as well.

Is this a pipe dream? Maybe, but pipe dreams are still fun to think about.