COLUMBUS — Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, football coach Ryan Day and team physician Dr. Jim Borchers explained the decision to cancel OSU’s game against Illinois but said it’s too early to predict when the Buckeyes will return to the field during a Zoom call on Saturday.
No. 4 Ohio State (4-0) was supposed to play at Illinois on Saturday before a rise in positive COVID-19 test results on Friday led to OSU’s decision not to play. The Buckeyes’ next scheduled game is at Michigan State this Saturday.
“We made a decision last night to pause because our positivity rate reached a concerning level. We did not reach the Big Ten protocol thresholds. But the positivity rate was concerning enough where we felt we needed to pause and find a way to mitigate the spread and continue to assure the safety of our student athletes,” Smith said.
“We had an unbelievable run where we did not have the challenges we had this week that ultimately caused us to pause,” he said.
Ohio State regularly tests 170 players, coaches and support staff employees. The first signs of trouble showed up when some positive tests were reported on Wednesday. Two days later, Day was among those who tested positive.
Originally, OSU planned to go to Illinois with defensive line coach Larry Johnson filling in for Day. But after another round of tests pushed the positive rates still higher, the game was canceled late Friday night.
“Could we have played? Sure. Was it the right thing to play? No,” Smith said.
Once the Illinois game’s fate was decided, the big question became if Ohio State will be able to play at Michigan State.
When the Big Ten’s compressed football season began in late October, one of rules put in place was that a team had to play at least six games to be eligible for the Big Ten championship game.
If Ohio State has to cancel its game at Michigan State it would fall below the six-game line. And not playing in the championship game could affect the perception of the Buckeyes by the College Football Playoff selection committee. OSU was fourth in the most recent College Football Playoff rankings.
“Our objective now is to continue to focus on the safety of our players and to make sure we provide an opportunity potentially to come back to compete next weekend,” Smith said. “It’s kind of fluid, we’re going to have to go day by day. We’ll test again tomorrow (Sunday). There is too much uncertainty. We just have to look at each day and see what we’ve got.”
Asked if there is a possibility of getting the Big Ten to discuss changing the six-game rule, he said, “Conversations have not occurred. We made a decision late last night to do what we did. That’s the last thing on my mind. Might that come up at some point later? No question in my mind. But right now I haven’t even thought about it.”
Day said, “I have a very heavy heart. It has been a very emotional and difficult week for everybody in the program. Every time those test results come back you hold your breath to see what’s going on and how your team is doing. Our focus right now is to keep everybody safe. I’m resting comfortably at home. This is certainly a very trying week for all of us.”
Day said if Ohio State can return to practice by Thursday it could be ready for a game on Saturday.
Unlike Wisconsin and Maryland, which announced how many positive tests they had when they canceled games earlier this season, OSU did not provide a number, citing privacy reasons.
Dr. Borchers did say that there were positive tests in all three groups tested — players, coaches and support staff.
“There was no pattern, no one specific position group or group of people,” he said.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414.