By now, you have likely heard the news that the Wisconsin Badgers have opted to shut down football team activities for one week, after at least six players and six staff members tested positive for the coronavirus. That means that their game this Saturday against the Nebraska Cornhuskers has officially been canceled; and, in case you were wondering, the Big Ten announced that it would be considered a no-contest for both teams, despite the fact that Wisconsin has not yet officially reached the conference mandated threshold for canceling games due to COVID concerns.
But, as this news was unfolding today, all that I could think about was that while something like this happening was always considered an inevitability, it really does not bode well that it happened after the first weekend of games. So, with that in mind, I’m going to use this space to work through my thoughts and feelings on the matter. If you want to take a trip into my muddled thinking on the matter, feel free. But if not, that’s cool too, I’m just using this column for my own sanity at this point anyway.
We are all well aware that the B1G’s rules regarding testing and players returning to action are far more strict than anywhere else in college football; that’s just the price of playing B1G football this fall, I suppose. But, what I think might have been lost in the excitement of getting the season back was just how difficult it is going to be for any team to get through a season without COVID impacting their locker room, or the locker room of an upcoming opponent.
As far as we know, Nebraska has done everything properly and have zero positive coronavirus cases. And yet, they are being penalized because of an outbreak in Madison. Now, I am not suggesting that Wisconsin players and/or coaches broke protocol resulting in their infections, but just that the Huskers are an innocent victim — so to speak — watching their season get upended because of circumstances that they not only don’t control, but aren’t really even involved in.
While we all hope that this is the first and last instance of a B1G game being canceled this season, the fact that this is happening after just one weekend of games means that everybody — teams and fans alike — will be holding their breath until Dec. 19. And I don’t know about you, but holding my breath for 52 days does not sound like my idea of fun.
For those amongst us that don’t do well with disappointment and heartbreak, it might be time to start preparing ourselves in case this becomes a common occurrence, and — more devastatingly — that it very well might happen to the Buckeyes. That way, if it does happen, we’ve done the work to get ourselves into a mental state where we can accept and healthily work through our pain. And, if it doesn’t happen, no harm no foul, and we just keep on enjoying football.
The thing is, while I have complete faith in the OSU program’s ability to follow all protocol and guidelines, there is an element of luck in avoiding this virus. Without a legit bubble, players and coaches are inevitably going to come into contact with other people, and no matter who those people are, it is almost certain that they won’t be tested as often as the members of the football program, and unless they are medical professionals, likely won’t be taking their health as seriously either.
So there cannot be 100% certainty that a program is immune (no pun intended) from contracting the virus, it is just the worst game of Six Degrees of Infected Bacon that you can play (pun painfully intended). Does the cashier at the grocery store have COVID? Does a coach’s kid’s teacher have coronavirus? Is the person who sits next to a player’s girlfriend in class infected? If the answer to any of those questions is yes, it could potentially lead to a game being canceled.
That is why I’m just trying to get in the right head space just in case the relative worst case scenario happens. For Ohio State to play its full nine-game B1G season, not only do they have to be practically perfect in countering COVID, so do all of their opponents. And when there are so many things that can go wrong, it’s like a literal house of cards; every part of the program relies on every other part of the program, and it only takes one tiny mistake to bring the whole thing down. I am not normally an anxious person, but the complexity of this whole operation makes me nervous.
Then there is a separate, but parallel issue of how the B1G office set up the season schedule. In their original conference-only schedule (announced four days before they then canceled the fall season), there were numerous open dates worked into the calendar that would allow for games like the one between the Badgers and Huskers to be played on an alternate date.
However, when they released the plan that we are currently operating under about a month later, those open dates were gone, and the B1G gave teams six weeks to prepare for their season openers. If they had gone with the standard four week camp, there would have been plenty of time to make up two games per team. But, with this schedule, there is no flexibility. Leaving Nebraska and Wisconsin shit out of luck.
Now, I understand that the extra two weeks were incorporated to allow teams to acclimate to pads and hitting, and that’s great, but then that brings us back to the original B1G-only schedule. If the conference presidents had just stuck to the original plan, not only would we be nearly two months into the season by now, but there would have been ample opportunities to make up any games that COVID forced to be canceled. Heck, they could have also chosen to push back a month like the SEC to give themselves more time to formulate a plan that they wouldn’t end up ditching less than a week later.
I know that none of these points are all that new, and I don’t want to relitigate the B1G’s handling of the initial cancelation, but one of the stated reasons that the league took such drastic steps was because of the concerns over a potential link between coronavirus and myocarditis. However, according to Sports Illustrated’s Ross Dellenger, there has been such little connection seen between the two diseases that doctors are no longer recommending heart screenings for COVID-positive athletes.
While there’s no going back and correcting the admittedly thin medical data that the conference presidents used in canceling the season in the first place, at least one conference administrator — Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez — is proposing that the league change its required 21-day period that a player who tests positive must be held out of action. The first 14 days are fairly standard across conferences, but the final week was initially added to account for extra observation for potential heart-related concerns.
If the medical evidence is no longer suggesting a connection between COVID and myocarditis, then perhaps this could be an opportunity for the B1G to show that it is capable of being flexible and changing course mid-stream. But, since I am already holding my breath waiting for the next cancelation shoe to drop, I don’t have any more breaths to hold waiting for the B1G admit a mistake.
After nearly 1,400 words and a few tangents, I don’t know that I feel any better about potential cancelations for Ohio State and the rest of the B1G, but I what I do feel is more certain that if Ryan Day and his team are able to navigate this season and accomplish all of the goals that they set out to achieve, that due to all of the ridiculous obstacles thrown in their way, it will be the most monumental success story in OSU and college football history.
After some unexpected start and stops, I am back to posting a column every single day from preseason camp until whenever Ohio State’s football season ends. Some days they will be longer and in depth, some days they will be short and sweet. Let me know what you think of this one, and what you’d like to see me discuss in the comments or on Twitter. Go Bucks!