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Ryan Day defends Justin Fields, while also calling out those who opted out

Mike Florio and Chris Simms discuss the antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA and how it could lead to an overdue change in college sports.

Ohio State coach Ryan Day, to his credit, has defended former Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields in the case of a whisper campaign that became a bear trap for ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky. In so doing, however, Day offered up unnecessary and unwarranted criticism of players who made the conscientious decision to not play in 2020, due to the pandemic.

“The whole idea that he doesn’t have a very good work ethic?” Day told Peter King for his Football Morning in America column. “I mean, to me, that’s crazy. He got done with the Clemson game [a loss in the 2019 playoffs] and he came back and all he did was work to get back to that game. And when those other guys are opting out, what’s he do? He petitions to have a season. He put together this petition that the Big Ten athletes all signed saying that they want to play, but they want to play safely and that they don’t accept canceling the season. It was all led by Justin Fields. Where was everybody else? Where were the guys who were opting out then? You know, you don’t love the game if you’re doing something like that. This kid loves the game.”

Sorry, Coach Day. But it’s possible not only to love the game but also to be concerned about catching a virus and potentially passing it to family members who may suffer a very bad outcome. While he has every right to defend Fields by touting the quarterback’s effort to save what would have been a lost season (and which, depending on Day’s contract, may have cost Day all or most of his salary), Day is wrong to suggest that opting out equates to not loving football.

“I think some people are being a little reckless with their comments,” Day told King regarding the anonymous criticism of Fields, which was fed to Orlovsky and then publicized by him. Day, ironically, was more than “a little reckless” with his own comments.

For the same reason those trashing Fields deserve to be criticized, Day deserves to be criticized for boosting Fields by trashing those who made the decision that it didn’t make sense to risk catching and/or spreading the virus by playing college football in 2020, especially since they don’t get paid to play college football.

It’s another reason why college football faces a long overdue reckoning. Until that reckoning comes, it will be permissible for everyone involved in the moneymaking machine to make decisions based on their own best personal and business interests -- except for the players. When the players make a personal or business decision that leads them to choose not to play football (either for a game or for a full season), they’ll be labeled as not loving the game.

There’s just as much BS in that statement as there is in anything that anyone has said about Fields, and Day should face loud and widespread criticism for painting players who opted out in the negative way that he did.