Rob Oller | Enjoy Ohio State football while it lasts
Are the Buckeyes next? Fingers crossed no, but if we have learned anything from 2020 it is to expect the unexpected. And to appreciate what you have before it is gone.
Ohio State football is gone this weekend. A COVID-19 outbreak in Maryland’s program led the Terrapins to cancel Saturday’s game in College Park. We’ve known all along the virus was going to be OSU’s toughest regular-season opponent; it was just a matter of how tough. The scary part? We still don’t know.
Maryland had a lot to play for — the Terps are 2-1 and stunningly one of the better teams in the Big Ten East — and presumably were doing everything possible to play on Saturday, despite social media wisecracks suggesting school officials canceled to avoid the embarrassment of getting waxed by the Buckeyes.
What happens when players from programs out of contention decide, “Hey, enough of this bubble stuff. With little to play for we’re hitting the bars and enjoying college life”?
Winless Illinois comes to mind. The Illini play host to the Buckeyes on Nov. 28, two days after Thanksgiving. Will players be allowed to gather with family for turkey dinner, where catching the corona becomes a higher risk? Ohio State will be holding its breath, unable to control the testing outcomes that follow pumpkin pie.
Of course that is all just speculation. What is known is that the Southeastern Conference postponed four games this week following COVID-19 testing. Since Monday the conference shut down Alabama-LSU, Auburn-Mississippi State, Texas A&M-Tennessee and Georgia-Missouri after positive tests depleted rosters beyond the ability to adequately field teams.
At least the SEC has wiggle room to make up games. The Big Ten has no such safety net because of waiting until Oct. 23 to restart, which forced the scheduling of nine games over nine weeks, the ramifications of which are being witnessed now. Wisconsin canceled two games, against Nebraska and Purdue, and now Ohio State-Maryland has been shelved.
John Swartzberg, a professor in the Cal-Berkeley School of Public Health, expects more cancellations to follow.
“On June 1 there were 20,000 new cases a day in the U.S. Now there are 140,000,” Swartzberg said. “So it’s seven times riskier now than on June 1. If we continue to play football, and I think we will, we are going to see a continuation of what we are seeing now, except worse.”
Finding football a microcosm of society, Swartzberg sees the virus exploding on college teams, no matter how well they bubble, and not easing up for at least three months.
“People will be inside more and traveling over the holidays and then there is influenza circulating with COVID,” he said. “Mix it together and it doesn’t look good for November, December and especially January and February. We’re in for a dark, dark winter.”
Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play? More optimistically, Swartzberg stressed that his doomsday scenario is based mostly on intelligent guesswork, but if he is correct, then Ohio State fans need to re-arrange their thinking.
Instead of living in the future, anticipating an appearance in the College Football Playoff and a potential national championship, the time has come to enjoy the ride while it is happening (and hope it has not already come to a screeching halt.)
It’s a big ask. Appreciating college football for the beauty and thrill of the play itself is not something Buckeye Nation is used to. More than ever, fans live in the world of what’s next? “Will we get another shot at Clemson? Will Justin Fields win the Heisman?” Likewise, the question is not if OSU will win but by how many points.
But it’s not just fans who live in the future. When the Big Ten initially canceled its fall season on Aug. 11, the messaging from Ohio State coach Ryan Day was straightforward: We want to give our guys a chance to play. But when things resumed on Sept. 16 the messaging changed to the Buckeyes being allowed to compete for a national championship. How does Day reel that back in if need be?
“It’s like we’re living in this world where you just don’t know what’s coming next,” Day said on Thursday. “What we can do is do a great job today.”
Good advice for the rest of us. Appreciate every Fields completion, every Tuf Borland tackle and every Chris Olave catch. Enjoy the glimmering silver helmet and crisp scarlet jerseys. Live in the moment, because it may be the last one you get this year.