Next step unclear for Buckeyes after Michigan game canceled

Coach Ryan Day didn’t want to ponder the unthinkable when asked Tuesday what it would mean if Michigan canceled its game Saturday against his Ohio State Buckeyes.

“I try not to go there,” Day said, “just in that the disappointment and all that stuff is getting old. We’ll just try to focus on the positive and just focus on the game until we hear otherwise.”

At that point, all Ohio State knew was that Michigan had returned to limited workouts for the first time in more than a week after a COVID-19 outbreak within the program.

“Everything we’re hearing is we’re playing the game,” Day said, “so we’ve got to get prepared and get ready to roll and play well on Saturday and take the next step.”

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A little more than an hour later, that next step was unclear. Michigan announced it would not play Ohio State because of “an increasing number of positive COVID-19 cases and student-athletes in quarantine over the past week.”

This will be the first year since 1917 without a game between Michigan and Ohio State. The rivalry began in 1897. Other than a five-year gap (1913-17) when Ohio State was in the Big Ten and Michigan wasn’t, the teams have played every year since. This would have been the 117th game in the series.

Ohio State has now lost three games off the schedule because of COVID-19. Maryland canceled a Nov. 14 home game against Ohio State because of positive COVID-19 tests. Ohio State called off a game at Illinois on Nov. 28 because of its own COVID-19 problems.

This was the second straight game Michigan (2-4) has canceled a game. It called off its game against Maryland and paused workouts last week because of positive COVID-19 tests within the program. It returned to workouts Monday for the first time in more than a week.

“The number of positive tests has continued to trend in an upward direction over the last seven days,” said Warde Manuel, U-M’s Donald R. Shepherd Director of Athletics, in a press release. “We have not been cleared to participate in practice at this time. Unfortunately, we will not be able to field a team due to COVID-19 positives and the associated quarantining required of close-contact individuals. This decision is disappointing for our team and coaches but their health and safety is paramount, and it will always come first in our decision-making.”

The No. 4 Buckeyes (5-0) lead the Big Ten East Division by a half game over Indiana (6-1). This is the last weekend of Big Ten play before the “championship weekend” Dec. 19 when in addition to the Big Ten title game, teams will play crossover games depending on where they finished in their division.

The Big Ten announced before the season teams would have to play six games to qualify for the Big Ten Championship. The conference now has to decide whether to keep that rule if Ohio State doesn’t play this week. It released a statement related to that question Tuesday.

“The conference is committed to transparency,” the Big Ten announced, “and will continue to collaborate with its member institution stakeholders to determine Big Ten Football Championship Game participation requirements as well as tiebreakers.”

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