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Ohio State-Illinois Game Cancelled As COVID-19 Runs Roughshod Over College Football

James Murphy
by in NCAAF on
  • Saturday’s game between #4 Ohio State and Illinois has been cancelled due to a COVID-19 outbreak within the Buckeyes program.
  • COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc on the college football regular season and postseason schedule.
  • 8 bowl games have already been cancelled with more likely forthcoming.

As bad as the NFL has it with their current COVID-19 outbreak there’s little doubt that the situation is even worse in college football. Four games on Friday’s card were postponed or cancelled. Saturday’s college football lineup has already seen 15 games postponed or cancelled with the most significant being the Big Ten game between #4 ranked Ohio State and Illinois.

The situation with Ohio State began with the announcement that Buckeyes’ head coach Ryan Day had tested positive for COVID-19. The only information about Day’s condition that has come out of Ohio State is a comment from athletic director Gene Smith that he’s ‘doing well physically’. That ignores the most salient question about whether or not he’s experiencing any symptoms and, if so, their severity. To be fair, the school isn’t required to release any information due to privacy laws but in many cases with other coaches they have taken the proactive step to do so themselves. What is known is that Day will miss at least one more game (December 5 against Michigan State).

AD Smith did release this statement:

“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. Our team wants to play this game, and we’re going to do everything we can to help make this happen. All of the decisions on the welfare of our student-athletes and staff members will continue to be guided by our medical staff.”

The original plan was for the team to fly to Champaign early Saturday morning in advance of a 9 AM Pacific/12 Noon Eastern start time. The short lead time was done to allow more time for testing as well as in hopes of minimizing social contact during the trip. Associate head coach and defensive line coach Larry Johnson will take over the team on an interim basis–significant as he’ll be the first African-American head coach (interim or otherwise) in Ohio State history.

Unfortunately, Johnson’s sideline debut will have to wait at least a week. On Friday night, it was announced that the game against Illinois has been cancelled. In addition, the athletic department has paused all team-related football activities. The decision to cancel the game and pause team activities was made jointly by Director of Athletics Gene Smith, University President Kristina M. Johnson, head team physician Dr. Jim Borchers and in consultation with the Big Ten Conference. The OSU Athletic Department issued a short press release:

The football game between No. 3 Ohio State University and the University of Illinois, scheduled for this Saturday at 12 noon (EST) in Champaign, Ill., has been cancelled by Ohio State University after further positive tests for the coronavirus were discovered after a round of PCR testing this afternoon.

The Department of Athletics has paused all team-related football activities. The decision to cancel and pause was made jointly by Director of Athletics Gene Smith, University President Kristina M. Johnson, head team physician Dr. Jim Borchers and in consultation with the Big Ten Conference.

“We have continued to experience an increase in positive tests over the course of this week,” 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.”

The program will resume its team activities when its medical staff determines it is safe to do so based on protocols established by the Big Ten Conference.

It’s unclear whether Ohio State had crossed the 5% positivity rate that forced a cancellation. Illinois head coach Lovie Smith released this gracious statement:

“We are certainly disappointed that tomorrow’s game against Ohio State was canceled. 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.”

This is the second cancellation in three weeks for the Buckeyes. Previously, their game at Maryland scheduled for November 14 was cancelled due to a COVID-19 outbreak in the Terrapins’ program. This puts Ohio State in a very tenuous position as The Columbus Dispatch explains:

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.

Ineligibility due to COVID-19 cancelled games would be an unfortunate way to lose a shot at a National Championship though realistically it would prevent Ohio State from being eviscerated by either Clemson or Alabama. There are some variables in this mix–we’ll talk about this situation more in the coming days.


Just about every college football storyline this week has a COVID-19 tie-in. Alabama head coach Nick Saban has once again tested positive for COVID-19. He tested positive in mid-October but was asymptomatic. Following three negative tests it was determined that the original test was a false positive and he was allowed to coach against Georgia on October 17. This time he’s experiencing mild symptoms which the hardass Saban describes as ‘maybe a runny nose’ but that’s enough to keep him off the sidelines for Saturday’s ‘Iron Bowl’ game against Auburn. Alabama team doctors confirmed that with the cryptic statement that “this test will not be categorized as a potential false positive.”

Saban had this to say about his positive test:

“We hated that this situation occurred, but as I’ve said many times before, you got to be able to deal with disruptions this year, and our players have been pretty mature about doing that. So we just want to carry on the best we can. They’ve got a very good team and they’re playing really well right now, so it will be a challenge for us. We’ve just got to have great preparation and put our players in the best position to be successful.”

Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian will take over head coaching duties for Saban. Sarkasian’s name has been mentioned as a candidate for several coaching vacancies, notably the University of South Carolina. Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze is likely South Carolina’s top choice but they’re unlikely to land him–Freeze just signed a contract extension at Liberty that pays him $3 million plus per year making him one of the top five highest paid coaches outside of the ‘Power 5’ conferences. Between that and what he describes as his ‘dream job’ possibly coming open at Tennessee tough to see South Carolina as a contender. South Carolina was willing to pay Will Muschamp a $13 million buyout to go away so they’re in a position where they’ve got to make a good hire to replace him.

The number of college bowl games is declining rapidly due to COVID-19. The latest to announce that they won’t play in 2020 is the Pinstripe Bowl scheduled for December 29 at Yankee Stadium:

It doesn’t look like they’ll be missed too much:

Already cancelled: Redbox Bowl, Hawaii Bowl, Holiday Bowl, Quick Lane Bowl, Celebration Bowl, Fenway Bowl and Bahamas Bowl. There will be a bowl called the ‘Montgomery Bowl’ played this season only in place of the Fenway Bowl. The Las Vegas Bowl has indicated that they’ll announce a decision at a later date. This was supposed to be a big year for the Las Vegas Bowl as it moves from the Sam Boyd Silver Bowl to the Raiders’ swanky new Allegiant Stadium. Bowl organizers are ‘running the numbers’ before making a decision on the December 21 game:

“Each bowl game has its own business model. They work with their conference partners to come up with an equitable arrangement to send teams to their game. Those conversations have really been one-on-one conversations, with the bowl reaching out to their conference partners to make arrangements for this year. The Las Vegas Bowl simply needed more time to work that out.”

With the Silver State currently under new restrictions due to a COVID-19 resurgence the chances of the Las Vegas Bowl making a decision to play range from ‘minimal’ to ‘non-existent’. You can also expect at least a dozen more bowls of the 36 still on the schedule to cancel for this year.

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