There was a lot of negative news coming from Ohio State last week. The Buckeyes, one of the teams that fought so hard this offseason to play football this fall, a group that has talked about sacrifice and doing everything possible to stay healthy during the season, finally got bit by the COVID-19 virus.
The Scarlet and Gray had to cancel Saturday’s game at Illinois after a confirmed outbreak of COVID-19 within the program. This included head coach Ryan Day, which means he will not be on the sideline for at least 10 days following his positive test. While Ohio State hopes to play Saturday at Michigan State, the Buckeyes must get the COVID situation within the program under control.
Again, there are a lot of negatives here, as the Scarlet and Gray’s goals of a fourth straight Big Ten championship and a return to the College Football Playoff are now in doubt. The players and coaches worked hard to keep this virus from infecting the program and now it has.
But it’s not all negative. In fact, there is at least one way to spin this situation to have a few small positives.
While Ohio State certainly wanted to keep the virus away from the program as much as possible, the likelihood of making it through this college football season without there being some kind of outbreak was small. Franklin County, where Ohio State is located, is getting hit hard with COVID-19 cases and as much as the team tried to create a mini-bubble on campus, this wasn’t the NBA or the NHL and the chance of exposure was still present.
But now it has happened and the Buckeyes can move forward. This is not to say the team won’t still be careful, they absolutely will, but the situation, it seems, has been handled as well as to be expected and the program is slowly stepping back out of the woods.
If the Scarlet and Gray are able to play Saturday against Michigan State, that keeps the team alive in the Big Ten title race, a race in which Ohio State is currently winning. Day will be able to return to coach against Michigan the following weekend and potentially in the Big Ten Championship Game. And although there seems to be no consensus as to how long a previously infected person has enough antibodies to avoid catching COVID-19 again, Day should be clear through the next few months, meaning he will be on the sideline if the Buckeyes make the College Football Playoff.
This is also true for any players who tested positive. While Ohio State is not releasing names, there will be a sense of who contracted the virus when the Buckeyes’ next status report is released with the list of unavailable players. Given the Big Ten’s 21-day-out rule after testing positive, those players won’t be back until the Big Ten Championship Game but, like Day, would theoretically be available going forward. This is certainly a positive, assuming all players return healthy and with no lingering effects from the virus.
Given the uncertainty of when a vaccine will be readily available, it seems COVID-19 will be a concern through the national championship in mid-January. If the Scarlet and Gray face an opponent that is missing some key pieces in the Playoff, that’s is an unfortunate advantage to Ohio State. Would the Buckeyes take facing a Clemson team without Dabo Swinney or Notre Dame without Brian Kelly on the sideline, for example? It may not feel right, but a win is a win in this crazy season and a team without its head coach is at some level of disadvantage in such a big game.
Of course, it’s not as if the entire Ohio State roster became immune to this virus when the team had an outbreak, so precautions will continue to be taken and likely even on a higher alert after this outbreak. But the Buckeyes will have gone through the process once and know how to handle it, and it will also provide a cautionary tale — not that the team needed one — to the rest of the roster to do everything possible not to bring COVID-19 back in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
It should also be noted that Ohio State students did not return to campus following Thanksgiving, meaning there is less of a chance of exposure going forward than there has been throughout the season thus far. The Buckeyes still need to be smart, but it will be easier to do so with significantly fewer people around.
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There is little good that has come from this virus and that is certainly true with it spreading through the Ohio State football team. The Buckeyes hoped to avoid this issue and make it through these few months without this problem. That didn’t happen.
But if you choose to be optimistic, you can find positives even in the most negative of situations. The Scarlet and Gray just have to build on these going forward.