Ohio State has canceled Saturday's football game at Illinois because of a COVID-19 outbreak within the No. 4 Buckeyes' program and has paused all team-related activities indefinitely after additional positive tests were revealed Friday evening, the school announced.
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, university president Kristina M. Johnson and head team physician Dr. Jim Borchers made the decisions to cancel the game and pause activities in consultation with the Big Ten.
The game was canceled just hours after Ohio State announced that coach Ryan Day had tested positive for COVID-19 and was in isolation.
"We have continued to experience an increase in positive tests over the course of this week," Smith said in a statement Friday night. "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.
This is the second game Ohio State (4-0) has canceled this season, as the Buckeyes were unable to play Nov. 14 at Maryland because of COVID-19 within the Terrapins' program. For Ohio State to compete in the Big Ten championship game, it has to play both of its remaining regular-season games, on Dec. 5 at Michigan State and Dec. 12 at home versus rival Michigan.
According to the Big Ten, a team must play at least six games to be considered for participation in the championship game. However, if the average number of conference games played by all teams falls below six, then teams must play no less than two fewer conference games than the average number of conference games played by all teams (i.e., four games played if the conference average is six) to be considered. The champion will be determined in each division by its winning percentage, unless there is an unbalanced schedule because of the cancellation of games.
Ohio State, Indiana (4-1) and Maryland (2-1) are the only teams in the Big Ten East with winning records entering Saturday's games.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, 12 of the 14 games over the final two weeks would need to be canceled for the average to drop below 5.5 games per team. There have been six Big Ten games canceled through this week, so the average is currently 7.1. That would drop to exactly 7.0 if Ohio State doesn't play next week (if that's the only conference game canceled).
The College Football Playoff has not set a threshold for a minimum number of games that must be played to qualify for a semifinal this year. If Ohio State -- or any CFP contender -- is not able to play in its conference championship game because of cancellations, that doesn't mean it would be eliminated from the CFP discussion, but it wouldn't have the conference title as one of the tiebreakers the committee uses when teams are comparable.
Early Friday afternoon, Ohio State had still planned to fly to Champaign, Illinois, on Saturday morning for its noon ET game against the Illini. The school had confirmed "an increased number of positive tests this week for the coronavirus," after another round of daily testing on Friday morning. Everyone associated with the team -- including coaches and support staff -- then took polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests on Friday afternoon, "out of an abundance of caution to ensure that everyone on the trip is confirmed negative for the coronavirus," according to a news release.
The school announced the cancellation of the game after the additional testing. According to the school, Ohio State has "consistently recorded nearly 0% positivity since Aug. 11."