Ohio State football game against Maryland on Saturday canceled amid COVID-19 cases
Ohio State’s football game at Maryland on Saturday has been canceled because of an outbreak of coronavirus cases within the Terrapins’ program, the schools announced Wednesday afternoon.
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Eight Maryland players tested positive for COVID-19 in a span of seven days, prompting a shutdown of all organized team activities and leading to this weekend’s contest to be called off.
In a statement published on its website, school officials said they reached the decision after consulting with university health officials and the Big Ten.
The conference’s protocols for this season require teams to halt activities for a week if their positivity rate averages more than 5% over a seven-day period, but it was not immediately clear whether Maryland had reached that threshold. Players, coaches and program staff members are tested each day for COVID-19.
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The cancellation is the first to affect Ohio State in this pandemic-plagued season, which began last month, several weeks after most other major conferences began play.
Playing in three games before Saturday’s cancellation, the Buckeyes were unbeaten and had re-emerged as contenders for the College Football Playoff. In the latest national polls, they were ranked No. 3, trailing only Alabama and Notre Dame.
“Obviously, we are disappointed at not being able to compete this week,” Buckeyes coach Ryan Day said in a statement, “but I am incredibly proud of our team and the way they have handled themselves throughout this entire pandemic.”
Day added, “We wish Maryland, their student-athletes and programs well as they battle through this issue.”
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With coronavirus cases rising across the country, several games previously scheduled for this weekend have either been postponed or canceled, including as many as four in the Southeastern Conference.
The Buckeyes still held their regularly scheduled practice on Wednesday afternoon.
Athletic director Gene Smith told The Dispatch he spoke briefly with the team to deliver the news about the game before they took the field.
"You practice to get better," Smith said. "These guys are elite. They still have a lot of goals in front of them. I think they know that. The season's not over."
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Smith learned of the potential interruption Tuesday following a phone call from Maryland athletic director Damon Evans, who alerted him to some positive cases on their team.
The matchup with Maryland is declared a “no contest” and will not be rescheduled. The Buckeyes will not play this weekend.
In restarting its season Oct. 24, the Big Ten had arranged for nine games to be played in nine weeks, not affording the option for makeup games to be played at later dates. Wisconsin was the first team in the conference affected when it saw its past two games canceled because of a COVID-19 outbreak.
The condensed time frame was established by the Big Ten in order for a season to be staged before the selection of teams for the playoff on Dec. 20. The conference’s title game is scheduled for Dec. 19, along with other crossover games that are to be played over the same weekend.
Ohio State’s path to the championship game could be complicated by Saturday’s cancellation.
Teams must play in at least six games to be eligible in the league title game, unless the average number of conference games played is fewer than six.
If two of the Buckeyes' four remaining regular-season games — matchups with Indiana, Illinois, Michigan State and Michigan — see a similar fate, the Buckeyes could be unable to appear in the championship game.
The Buckeyes also are currently tied with Indiana for first place in the East Division after both teams opened their season with three consecutive wins. The Hoosiers visit Columbus for a game at noon next Saturday.
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The limited scheduling options was a reason Smith advocated for restarting the Big Ten’s season on Oct. 17, a week earlier, but he said he was pleased with the players’ resolve in playing through the pandemic.
“I'm proud of them and just hope they don't let these moments of adversity get in the way of their efforts,” Smith said. “Continue the sacrifices, and we'll be fine.
"I told them that there's certain things that could beat us. And one of them is the virus if you don't pay attention to that like they've done. And I've applauded them again for continuing to do it. That could beat us. So let's control what we can control, and that's how we operate and continue to set the standard. They've done that.”
Dispatch reporter Bill Rabinowitz contributed to this story.