Buckeyes were to be tested, fly by charter to Champaign on Saturday morning; assistant head coach Larry Johnson was set to act as interim coach with Ryan Day testing positive.
Columbus – Ohio State knew before kicking off a nine-game regular season that how well it played on the field might not matter whether or not it qualified for the Big Ten championship game during these COVID-19 times.
That’s because the conference has mandated that in order to get to the big game in Indianapolis teams play at least six games if all Big Ten teams averaged eight games played. The minimum would go down, of course, if there are more cancellations.
With the announcement late Friday night that the Buckeyes would not play at Illinois on Saturday because of heightened virus infections, they must now play games against Michigan State and Michigan in order to get to that magic number.
Crazy at it sounds, Ohio State could be booted out of the title game but still play game No. 9 against the second place team in the Big Ten West and have another chance to impress the selection committee.
It had a game cancelled against Maryland because of infections among the Terps.
The College Football Playoff committee has said that there is no minimum number of games that have to be played in order for teams to be considered for a spot in the national semifinals. The committee also has said that it could push back the dates of its postseason games if there were a barrage of cancellations.
The Buckeyes were ranked fourth in the first CFP rankings behind No. 1 Alabama, No. 2. Notre Dame and No. 3 Clemson.
This has been one weird season. There were 15 cancellations one weekend.
What scuttled Ohio State-Illinois were more positive tests for the virus after a round of PCR testing during the afternoon. The team also was tested during the morning.
“We have continued to experience an increase in positive tests over the course of this week,” athletic director Gene Smith said. “The health, safety and well-being of our student-athlete is our main concern, and our decisions on their welfare will continue to be guided by our medical staff.”
All football-related activities have been paused. The decision to cancel was made by Smith, first-year university president Kristina Johnson and head team physician Dr. James Borchers.
The Big Ten was consulted every step of the way.
Trouble began to brew when ElevenWarriors.com reported that “eight or nine’’ players had tested positive on Wednesday. The team still held a walkthrough that day and practiced Thursday.
Then things began to look grim when it was announced that second-year coach Ryan Day would not make the trip because he had tested positive. Another player also reportedly tested positive.
Assistant head coach and defensive line coach Larry Johnson was named interim coach.
The Buckeyes were to get tested before boarding a charter flight to Champaign, Illinois, Saturday morning.
COVID-19 has caused further harm in that every player testing positive must sit out three games, according to Big Ten rules.
“I have spoken with Coach Day, and he is doing well physically,” Smith said before the decision to cancel was made. “I feel terrible for Coach and for the members of the program who have been diagnosed with a positive test. Coach Day and this team have been true leaders in handling things so well throughout this pandemic.’’
No person inside the program had made so many sacrifices in avoiding infections than Day. He has been wearing a mask and sanitizing inside his home. He has warned his players to avoid parties, failing to wear their masks and hanging out with people not associated with the team.
The positive makes Day the fourth coach in the Big Ten to be hit with the virus. Jeff Brohm of Purdue, Paul Chryst of Wisconsin and Mike Locksley of Maryland were the other.
Wisconsin and Maryland had so many infections that each had to shut down operations and cancel games.
Now, it’s Ohio State’s turn to experience tremendous frustration and uncertainty.
What’s stunning is that the Buckeyes had nearly a spotless record when it came to avoiding infections. The athletic department said the team, and that includes support personnel, “had consistently recorded nearly 0 percent positivity rates since August 11.’’
What has happened to Ohio State shows just how tricky this virus can be in that Day has said he purposely has kept Fields out of group meetings and close to him as a failsafe.
Yet Fields apparently was good to go for Illinois. He practiced Wednesday and Thursday.
Day asked the players to remain together rather than join their families for Thanksgiving dinner as a way to keep their quasi-bubble tight.
“To look at these guys in the eyes after everything they’ve sacrificed, it needs to matter,’’ he said.
Redshirt senior defensive tackle Jonathon Cooper said the younger players have it the hardest.
“You don’t have a life outside of here because you are in a bubble,’’ he said. “It’s hard on a young guy. I feel like what we have to our advantage is each other.”