The No. 3 Buckeyes were scheduled to visit College Park on Saturday, but eight Maryland players tested positive for the coronavirus in the past week, the school said in a statement. Following a recommendation from university health officials, the decision to pause team activities and cancel the game was made by Athletic Director Damon Evans and Darryll Pines, the president of the university.
“There is nothing more important than the health and well-being of our student-athletes, coaches and staff,” Evans said in a statement. “We realize that this news is disappointing to all of the Maryland fans out there who were looking forward to the Terps taking on an outstanding Ohio State team, but the responsible thing for us to do is pause football activities, given the number of positive cases currently in our program.”
Every weekend since the college football season began, a handful of games have been postponed or canceled. With cases spiking across the United States, an increasing number of games are being affected. Four SEC games were postponed this weekend, leaving only three matchups on the conference’s schedule.
“We’ve seen disruption in every conference and in leagues at the professional level, so the fact that we have disruption this week is not fully news,” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey told reporters Wednesday. “The significance of the number of contests affected fully is.”
The SEC scheduled its conference championship game for Dec. 19 with an open date Dec. 12. Many of the postponed games were rescheduled for Dec. 12, but with the number of affected games increasing each week, it is becoming more difficult to fit them into the schedule. The SEC said in a statement that Dec. 19 could be considered for rescheduled games involving teams not in the title game.
“It’s a difficult circumstance, no way to paint it otherwise, but we knew that challenges would emerge for college sports,” Sankey said. “... We’ll continue to move forward with our efforts to support healthy competition leading us to a conference championship in football. That’s been our goal while acknowledging the potential for adjustments that may be needed.”
The SEC mandates that a minimum of 53 scholarship players be available for a team to play, including at least one quarterback, four defensive linemen and seven offensive linemen. Sankey said that contact tracing that requires athletes to quarantine has become a significant hurdle for programs. Those contact-tracing guidelines are determined by local health officials, he said.
In the Big Ten, football players and staff members are tested daily, and any player who contracts the virus must sit out for 21 days. The conference scheduled an eight-game regular season, followed by a championship weekend during which all Big Ten teams will play a ninth game. Because the conference initially planned not to play football this fall and then reversed the decision in September, the Big Ten’s delayed schedule left no room to reschedule missed games.
Maryland was set to play Ohio State following back-to-back conference wins against Minnesota and at Penn State. The Terps have not beaten the Buckeyes since they joined the Big Ten before the 2014 season.
“We’re obviously extremely disappointed that we’ll be unable to host Ohio State this Saturday,” Coach Michael Locksley said in a statement. “It was an opportunity that our team was preparing for and excited about. However, we have and always will keep our players, coaches and staff’s safety at the forefront of our decision-making process. We’ll continue to operate as much as we can virtually as we monitor the situation in hopes of returning to play when it’s deemed safe.”
Maryland Athletics had not announced testing data in more than a month, though it typically provided weekly updates during the summer before fall football practices began. The school said Wednesday that between Sept. 30 and Nov. 10, 10 athletes tested positive across all sports. The men’s and women’s basketball programs began testing athletes daily Oct. 26, and other teams continue to test athletes weekly.
Since teams began to return to campus this past summer, 120 out of roughly 550 athletes inside Maryland’s athletic department have tested positive for the virus.
The football program paused workouts after nine athletes and staff members tested positive in early July. The athletic department dealt with an outbreak in September, with 46 athletes across 10 teams testing positive. The football program had to pause practices, though multiple people with knowledge of the situation attributed the spike to sports outside football.
In the Big Ten, Wisconsin’s football program dealt with an outbreak earlier this fall that forced the Badgers to cancel games against Nebraska and Purdue. Wisconsin is set to resume play this weekend at Michigan.
Maryland’s next game is Nov. 21 against Michigan State, and it is unclear whether the Terps will be able to resume practices in time to play that game as scheduled.