When the Buckeyes tip off Wednesday night, the ball is going to bounce a little louder and the squeaks of sneakers are going to be sharper. The moans of frustration and cheers of jubilation from both benches will be heard loud and clear, with absolutely no noise to compete with them.
For the first time ever (I assume), the Buckeyes will face an opponent in an empty Value City Arena. Due to concerns surrounding COVID-19, season ticket holders were not able to renew tickets, alumni will not be in attendance, and the study body will be forced to watch from home.
The adjustment will be rougher for some than others. While the Schottenstein Center is often criticized for being a subpar college venue, the time and effort that is put in for every home game goes far beyond what any common fan would think. Ushers, vendors, and building operations workers are at The Schott hours before tipoff, preparing the building so thousands of Buckeye fans can have a great experience watching the BasketBucks.
Many of those people will not be needed this year with no fans in attendance. Just like you and I, they will watch from home. But for another organization, no fans in the Schott means a complete overhaul of their yearly schedule. That group is the Buckeye NutHouse.
The NutHouse is Ohio State’s basketball student section. It is one arm of Block O — the largest and oldest student organization at Ohio State. Formed in 1938, Block O is made up of 11 student sections for Buckeye sports, working together to provide a unique and exciting experience for student to get involved with and learn more about all of Ohio State’s athletic teams.
Each section of Block O (each sport) has a committee, the size of which is determined by how many students generally attend that sport. Men’s basketball seats anywhere from 700-1100 students on any given night, so the NutHouse committee has around 15 students any given school year.
The committee works with the Ohio State Athletic Department and Fan Experience to plan promotions, design t-shirts, promote student ticket sales, and prepare the student seating section for every home game. Committee members arrive 2-3 hours before tipoff of every home game to place rosters and other giveaways on student seats, “paint up”, and answer any questions students have about that day’s game or how to join Block O.
But with no students at games this year, the NutHouse committee’s busy basketball schedule is suddenly empty. There was no promoting student tickets or planning promotions this year. Nobody will be painting “We’re nuts” on their chest this year, or reminding Tom Izzo that he’s five feet tall from directly behind the away bench. The Buckeye NutHouse, like many other student organizations, has been sidelined.
Dan Pitts is a fourth-year logistics management major from St. Louis, MO and has been the director of the Buckeye Nuthouse for the last two seasons. A four-year member of the Nuthouse, Pitts is facing the reality that his final basketball season won’t involve any of the sideline shenanigans that accompanied the first three.
As a former Nuthouse member myself, I decided to do a quick Q&A with Dan so that he would have an opportunity to tell everyone how to Nuthouse is adjusting to this basketball season, and how he thinks the section will bounce back next season when students are allowed to fill the NutHouse once again.
Q: How is the NutHouse adjusting to this season, where it’s looking more likely there aren’t going to be any fans in the building?
A: It’s been a struggle for sure. The committee and myself are the biggest Ohio State Hoops fans on campus, and, while we’re holding out hope, it’s very saddening that we most likely aren’t going to be in the Schott this year to cheer on the Bucks. We still plan on making the most out of this season, whatever that may entail.
Q: Will there be other opportunities for students to get involved with the Nuthouse and Block O during this basketball season, despite the circumstances?
A: There will be, but what that looks like we aren’t sure just yet. Some events are in the works, but they will most likely be virtual. Given the restrictions put on by the university and the state, there isn’t much we can do in person. We will most likely be putting out a NutHouse T-shirt designed by the committee that students can preorder, which is a first as usually athletics designs the shirts everyone is familiar to seeing every year.
As far as Block O as a whole, we are continuing to put on virtual events for our members, and this year we even introduced mentorship groups for our younger members, focusing mainly on the freshmen.
Q: How will a potential season with no fans impact future seasons? Do you think student ticket sales are going to jump/drop next year when students are allowed back in?
A: With the upward projection of the program, I am very confident season ticket sales for students will continue to grow as they have the past few years. I also believe once all of this is over, people will be hungry to go to sporting events again.
Q: How do you and the Nuthouse committee feel about this year’s team? What are your expectations?
A: We’re pretty excited. As most everyone knows, we’re a top 25 team and I think coach Holtmann and the staff will have them ready and focused for this year. I believe they will be a Sweet 16 team at least, and once you’re at that stage of the tournament, anyone can win it. As far as the Big Ten, obviously it’s stacked this year, but I think we can be a top-four team in the conference and potentially win it.
Q: Who or what excites you the most about the 2020-2021 Ohio State basketball team?
A: E.J. Liddell. That dude is a monster, and I think a lot people are expecting him to break out. He’s from the St. Louis area like me, so I know he’s going to be an animal. He had an insane freshman year and I think he’s only gonna get better as his time here continues.
Q: As a senior, reflecting on your years in the Buckeye NutHouse, was there one game that sticks out as the most memorable moment?
A: When I think about the Nuthouse, I think more about the people I’ve become lifelong friends with because of it. The two directors before me, James Prisco and Adam Jankowski, along with many others, have become some of my closest friends I’ve made here at Ohio State. Those friendships outweigh any game I’ve attended.
If I had to pick a game, I would have to go with last year’s game against TTUN. After pushing it for a couple years, we finally got to do a “color out” game and the entire Schott was decked out in red shirts we put on the backs of all 18,000 seats. It was an electric atmosphere and the section itself was the best it’s ever been in my opinion. I also got to debut my salmon sport coat which was, of course, influenced by Coach Holt’s.
From my time here I’ve learned one very important thing from the Nuthouse, and that is that we are a BASKETBALL school.