The annual rivalry game between Michigan and Ohio State has been canceled due to an increase in COVID-19 cases over the past week within the Wolverines’ program, the school announced.
The decision was made after conversations with medical experts, health department officials and the university administration.
“The number of positive tests has continued to trend in an upward direction over the last seven days,” Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel said. “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.”
Michigan’s chief medical officer, Darryl Conway, on Tuesday wouldn’t specify how many players have tested positive or how many players were in contact tracing, but he said the Wolverines did not fall in the red-red threshold that would have required the Big Ten to pause activities for the program.
The Big Ten measures test positivity rate and population positivity rate. A red-red designation would mean a test positivity rate higher than 5% and a population positivity rate higher than 7.5%. A team falling in the orange category, below red, must proceed with caution and enhance COVID-19 prevention, which can result in canceled games and pausing team activities.
“It became really apparent to us all that no matter how much we wanted to play the game, that we started this back in March with the goal to put the health and safety of our student athletes, our coaches, our staff, as the first priority,” Manuel said. “As numbers continue to grow, we can’t ignore and put first how much we want to play this great game against Ohio State. We have to put their health and safety first. And until we have a good sense and control of that, there is no reason why we should move forward knowing we don’t have a good handle on the COVID cases on our team right now.”
The Wolverines had canceled their game against Maryland on Dec. 5 and paused all team activities. The program was cleared for limited workouts on Monday and participated in those workouts, but the administration decided to cancel the game due to the increase in cases and the number of student-athletes in quarantine over the past week.
Michigan says it will continue daily testing with hopes of getting back on the practice field when cleared by medical officials.
The cancellation of this game puts Ohio State at five total games played this season, which is under the threshold put forth by the Big Ten conference to compete in the conference championship game against Northwestern.
— Ohio State Football (@OhioStateFB) December 8, 2020
The rule states that teams must play in six games to qualify for the championship game, unless the average number of games throughout the conference falls below six.
“We’ll continue to remain transparent,” Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said Tuesday. “We’ll continually communicate internally with our coaches and athletic directors as we continue to make decisions that will impact our conference over the next two weeks. We’ll work through these issues. … We need to remain fluid, and we remain nimble during these times. This has never happened before.”
Big Ten athletic directors will meet Wednesday, according to sources, when they could discuss changing the benchmark.
“I just think we have to take a hard look periodically at all this stuff, and this is one of those situations,” Buckeyes coach Ryan Day said Tuesday. “If we don’t quite get the games we need to get in the championship game, I think that needs to be looked at hard, just like anybody else in the conference. There’s no easy solution in times like this.
“I know those guys are going to come together and take a hard look at it and make sure it was the right decision.”
Manuel agreed with Day’s sentiment about looking at altering the rules if Ohio State is not able to meet the six-game requirement. Manuel said he believes the Buckeyes are one of the top four teams in the country and should be given an opportunity to play in the College Football Playoff, if chosen in the top four.
“I don’t believe that anybody, Ohio State or any other team, should just be punished because decisions we made by looking at eight games and saying we should play six,” Manuel said. “… I would be open, and I think the conference would be open, to having a discussion about whether or not we should make adjustments, whether or not schedules should be adjusted to get Ohio State to play enough games, either six or to play in the championship game with five. But I don’t think we should just hunker down and say ‘Well, we said six, so that’s gonna be it.’
“I think the conversation deserves to happen, to see if we can have any adjustments made. This is unprecedented times for everybody, and we need to make sure that we are flexible and able to move and make decisions based on the data we have.”
In addition, if another Big Ten game for Saturday were to be canceled, the conference could move around games in an effort to get Ohio State to play.
If Purdue, which canceled practice Tuesday to evaluate its latest COVID-19 testing, had to cancel against Indiana, the Big Ten could move around games or have Indiana and Ohio State play again.
If the conference were not to alter its rules and Ohio State were to not play Saturday, Indiana would be the East Division’s representative in the conference championship game.