COLUMBUS (WCMH) — The Ohio State University football program is hopeful it can return to the field against Michigan State next Saturday after having to cancel this week’s game due to positive COVID-19 tests.
During a press conference Saturday morning, OSU Athletic Director Gene Smith said while the Buckeyes did not reach the established Big Ten testing threshold for COVID-19 team positivity, it did reach a positivity rate among the program that was “concerning.”
“This is not about the Big Ten championship, it’s not about the CFP (College Football Playoffs), it’s about one thing: their health, their safety, and to possibly give them a chance to play next weekend,” Smith said.
The conference call started just 30 minutes before the Buckeyes were originally scheduled to kick off against the University of Illinois Saturday. Late Friday night, OSU called off that game because of the spread of COVID-19 among the football program, including head coach Ryan Day testing positive for the virus.
For his part, Day said he is resting comfortably in isolation, but has a heavy heart that his team isn’t able to compete this week.
“This is an opportunity to get through adversity and work through adversity and get to know yourselves,” Day said about the situation for his players. “I really believe going through all this is going to make us stronger, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. It’s not fun.”
The university is not releasing the number of people who tested positive among the program nor is it releasing the names or positions of any players who tested positive in order to protect the identity of those student-athletes.
The players who have tested positive are in quarantine and must pass through a 21-day recovery period before returning to play.
The Big Ten has two thresholds that could trigger a team to pause activities related to the percentage of positive tests and the percentage of people within the program who are positive.
Ohio State Athletics Team Physician Dr. Jim Borchers said only one of those thresholds was met. The percentage of people who are currently positive in the Buckeyes’ program is more than 7.5%. The total number of people a school can designate as being a Tier 1 member of the program is 170.
“Could we have played? Sure,” Smith said. “Was it the right thing to play? No.”
Borchers said no one who has tested positive for the virus has needed extensive medical treatment, adding he has “every expectation that they will recover and continue to do well.”
While no one committed to when the football program would be able to get back to normal activity, Day did say if the team was given the OK, they would be prepared for Saturday’s game against Michigan State with just two days of practice, saying a full practice Thursday and a walkthrough on Friday would be enough preparation.
“I think you could get it done by practicing Thursday, have a good, hard practice Thursday, walk-through Friday, go play Saturday, but again, what is it to take it day by day, see how it goes,” Day said.
On Friday, the football program completed a round of point of contact daily testing. All team members and Tier I coaches and support staff had polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests out of an “abundance of caution” to ensure everyone traveling for Saturday’s game is confirmed negative.
Saturday’s game is the second game of the Big Ten season Ohio State has had canceled, putting the Buckeyes in a precarious position to compete for a Big Ten and national title. The Buckeyes were fourth in the first College Football Playoff rankings released earlier this week.
Big Ten rules require teams to play at least six game in this abbreviated season to be eligible to play in the conference championship game. The minimum could drop if the average number of games played by all Big Ten teams falls below six.
Ohio State (4-0) has only two game remaining on its regular-season schedule: at Michigan State on Dec. 5 and home against Michigan on Dec. 12. The Big Ten championship game is Dec. 19.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.