Lingering Questions About Ohio State's Season Following COVID-19 Outbreak and Canceled Game

By Kevin Harrish and Colin Hass-Hill on November 28, 2020 at 8:35 am
Football is taking a break.

After an increased number of positive COVID-19 tests with the Ohio State football program, the Buckeyes now find themselves with their second canceled game of the year and plenty of unknowns as a result.

With much still hanging in the balance, we take a look at some of the lingering questions about the rest of Ohio State's season.

When will Ohio State be able to return?

This answer can’t be fully known unless Ohio State reveals whether or not the thresholds set by the Big Ten that would necessitate a cancellation. A team spokesman declined to answer whether that was the case on Friday evening.

If the Buckeyes did, in fact, meet the thresholds set by the Big Ten that require a shutdown – 5 percent of players and 7.5 percent of all Tier I personnel (players, coaches, staffers and more) – then they won’t be able to get back to the field for at least seven days. If that’s the case, Ohio State would be sidelined until next Friday, at the minimum. Could the Buckeyes, in a best-case scenario, return to the facility for one practice before traveling to Michigan State for a game? Possible, but unlikely. In this case, they’d most likely miss two games in a row.

If the thresholds were not reached, though, Ohio State’s next move is unknown. Not every Big Ten team that has canceled games due to COVID-19 hit the thresholds. But even some that didn’t hit the thresholds – including Maryland and Wisconsin – led to the cancellation of two games. At this point, with a team-wide outbreak that spurred a cancellation less than 24 hours before kickoff, that seems like the most likely outcome.

What if Ohio State doesn’t qualify for the Big Ten championship game?

Ohio State fans are naturally concerned about the team’s ability to play for a Big Ten championship this year, but a key change in the conference’s scheduling this year is that every Big Ten team will play on championship weekend with opponents matched up based on conference standing.

So, if Ohio State does not qualify for the Big Ten championship game, the Buckeyes will still have a game scheduled that weekend, possibly against a ranked Wisconsin team. Though it may not be quite equivalent to a matchup with an unbeaten Northwestern team with the Big Ten title on the line, it’s not all or nothing; a win against the Badgers would help the Buckeyes’ playoff resume, too.

Of course, this is all assuming the Big Ten sticks with the six-game requirement.

Does the Big Ten reconsider the championship game minimum?

We’re all living in a world where the Big Ten postponed the season to the spring and doubled down on the decision within a week only to reverse course a little over a month later. So, anything is possible. Earlier this fall, the conference set precedent that it can alter a decision it has already made.

Now, will the Big Ten make a change here? That’s just hard to know.

Ohio State could try to throw its power around to make a case for the removal of the game minimum, which is arbitrary. And the conference knows it would be a bit of a weird look if an undefeated Buckeyes team cedes the division to an Indiana team that it beat in the fourth week of the regular season.

Given how the Big Ten handled the postponement (cancellation?) of the fall football season a couple of months ago, it’s difficult to know how it’ll respond if Ohio State – and/or other teams – want to push to alter this.

Is it possible for the average to fall below 6 games played?

Realistically, no.

By simple math, for the average number of games played to fall below six, it would take 14 cancelations on the season. Including this weekend’s two canceled games, we’re currently at six cancellations on the season with just two weeks left. That means we’d need to see eight cancellations in the next two weeks, which is more than half the number of games remaining.

If the Big Ten has to cancel more than half of its games in the next two weeks, we’re probably not going to see a Big Ten Championship Game regardless of who qualifies.

When the season returns, how many players will Ohio State be without?

Another way to ask this question would be “how many players tested positive, anyway?” We don’t know the answer to that, as Ohio State never released its pregame participation report.

What we do know is that whoever tested positive will now be sidelined for 21 days, ruling them out for both the Michigan State and Michigan games, if Ohio State is able to play in either of those contests.

Then there's also the possibility of potential midseason opt-outs like we've already seen at other schools.

Does this roster stay intact?

Ohio State has a roster loaded with future NFL talent, and that could work against the Buckeyes if the COVID-19 situation continues to trend in the wrong direction in the coming days and weeks.

A few of these players returned to Ohio State to chase a national championship and improve their NFL draft stocks. If it looks like the Buckeyes’ College Football Playoff chances are out the window and/or they feel they’ve already shown enough to bolster their draft position, players could potentially elect to leave the team and start their NFL draft preparation early.

We already saw it happen with Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman, who announced last week that he was leaving the team midseason to focus on his NFL draft preparation. There’s at least a chance we see it at Ohio State if players think they can no longer accomplish their goals.

Will the College Football Playoff move back?

We know the College Football Playoff has at least entertained the idea of pushing back the playoff, but so far has been quite insistent on maintaining its current timeline with officials saying it will not push the playoff back to create a longer regular season.

With late-season cancellations potentially causing quite a headache for the committee on selection day, we’ll see if the CFP reconsiders its stance.

Can Ohio State still make the playoff with such few games?

Our Dan Hope went much more in-depth on how Ohio State's COVID-19 situation affects the Buckeyes' playoff chances, but the short answer is yes.

Even if Ohio State does not play another game all season, the Buckeyes will still technically have a chance to make the playoff, because the committee said it will not require a minimum number of games for teams to qualify for the playoff.

"The selection committee's job is to select the top four teams beginning November 24 and continuing through the final rankings December 20," the committee said in a Q&A published on its website last weekend. "The number of games and wins by each team is certainly important in weighing its ranking, but it is not the only factor."

Of course, more games would certainly help bolster the Buckeyes' playoff resume, but if the committee thinks Ohio State is one of the four best teams in the nation, the Buckeyes can technically make the field regardless of how many games they've played.

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