Ohio State's football game at Illinois is called off

Ohio State's football game scheduled for Saturday at Illinois has been canceled, the school announced Friday night.

Ohio State canceled the game when additional positive tests for COVID-19 were discovered after a round of polymerase chain reaction testing on Friday afternoon. Head coach Ryan Day was among those who tested positive, the university said earlier Friday. Ohio State did not reveal the identities of the others.

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The athletic department has paused all team-related football activities. The decision to cancel the game and pause activities was made by athletic director Gene Smith, OSU president Kristina M. Johnson and head team physician Dr. Jim Borchers in consultation with the Big Ten Conference.

Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields prepares to lead the Buckeyes onto the field against Penn State on Oct. 31.

“We have continued to experience an increase in positive tests over the course of this week,” Smith said in a statement. “The health, safety and well-being of our student-athletes is our main concern, and our decisions on their welfare will continue to be guided by our medical staff.”

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Team activities will resume when its medical staff determines it is safe to do so based on protocols established by the Big Ten, Ohio State said in a release. No timeframe for a return was given.

The team had originally been scheduled to depart for Champaign on Friday night before delaying its chartered flight until 8 a.m. Saturday in order to accommodate the additional PCR tests.

Ohio State did not say if it had crossed the threshold required for canceling a game. The positivity rate for teams is required to remain below 5% in order to play.

"We are certainly disappointed that tomorrow's game against Ohio State was canceled," Illinois coach Lovie Smith said in a statement. "In these uncertain times, and having seen similar situations around the nation, we have always been aware that this could occur to us as well. All of us in collegiate athletics place the health and safety of our student-athletes at the highest level. We hope the Ohio State players and staff who have contracted the COVID virus recover quickly so they can continue their season."

Without playing this weekend, the Buckeyes are in jeopardy of becoming ineligible for the conference championship game in Indianapolis next month.

Teams must play a minimum of six games to reach the title game, leaving the Buckeyes (4-0) with no margin for error over the next two weeks. If either of their remaining games, against Michigan State or Michigan, is impacted, they could fall below the threshold requirement.

Ohio State is currently on pace to play six regular-season games in this pandemic-altered season, which began in late October.

Due to the Big Ten’s delayed start to the season, the schedule did not leave any idle weeks for teams to reschedule games, setting up eight games for teams in a span of eight weeks, followed by a final weekend on Dec. 19 that includes the conference title game and several crossover games between the divisions.

The game against Illinois is declared a no contest by the Big Ten.

It is the second cancellation in three weeks for the Buckeyes, who were also scheduled to visit Maryland on Nov. 14 before eight Terrapins’ players tested positive for the coronavirus, leading the game to be called off.

Rising coronavirus cases across the U.S. in recent weeks have prompted more cancellations across college football, including in the Big Ten.

Since Halloween, one Big Ten game has been canceled each week, and two were scrapped this weekend.

Saturday’s game between Minnesota and Wisconsin was also canceled due to COVID-19 cases within the Gophers’ program. The teams had met in each season since 1906.

Along with looking to reach the Big Ten’s championship game, the Buckeyes have also been competing for one of four spots in the College Football Playoff and were ranked fourth in the selection committee’s initial rankings released Tuesday.

The final rankings are not set until Dec. 20, but canceled contests leave them with fewer opportunities to accumulate style points in order to impress committee members.

CFP chair Gary Barta said they were keeping an eye on the Buckeyes’ defense after it gave up 35 points and almost 500 total yards to Indiana last Saturday.

The performance by the defense was among the reasons the committee kept Ohio State ranked behind Clemson, which has lost this season in overtime at Notre Dame earlier this season. The Tigers were without star quarterback Trevor Lawrence earlier this month and have played twice as many games as the Buckeyes.