Ohio State-Michigan Football Game Canceled By Covid-19 Outbreak, Interrupting Century-Old Annual Rivalry

Saturday’s Ohio State-Michigan game, a cornerstone rivalry in college football for more than a century, has been canceled because Michigan still is battling a surge of Covid-19 infections.

The disappearance of the game is a blow to Fox. The broadcast network has aired the game every year since 2017, drawing between 10.5 million and 13.2 million viewers.

The Wolverines last week had to scratch their December 5 contest against Maryland. At least 40 players were expected to miss the Ohio State game because of exposure to or infection with the virus, according to multiple press reports.

“The number of positive tests has continued to trend in an upward direction over the last seven days,” Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel said in a statement. “We have not been cleared to participate in practice at this time. Unfortunately, we will not be able to field a team due to Covid-19 positives and the associated quarantining required of close-contact individuals. This decision is disappointing for our team and coaches but their health and safety is paramount, and it will always come first in our decision-making.”

The teams have faced off — usually in November — every year since 1918. The first matchup between the teams was played in 1897.

Health officials continue to report significant upticks in Covid-19 metrics in the U.S. Total infections just surpassed 15 million and on Monday, while 1,533 new coronavirus deaths and 202,424 new cases were reported. There’s been an average of nearly 202,000 cases per day over the past week, up 17% from the average two weeks earlier.

Confronting an upsurge nearly four months ago, Big Ten officials decided to postpone football until 2021 before eventually reversing their decision. College sports, where players don’t have the resources or income of the pro ranks, has been an especially troublesome area and a case study for the nation’s struggles with Covid-19.

By this time in a normal year, college football would be in its bowl season, with weeks of games culminating in the national playoff, which starts New Year’s Day with the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl semifinals. So far, 11 bowl games have been canceled due to the pandemic. Earlier today, the inaugural LA Bowl, planned for December 30 at the new SoFi Stadium, was bumped to December 2021. It was to have featured the champion of the Mountain West Conference and a Pac-12 team.

Other bowls scratched this year include the Bahamas, Celebration, Fenway, Hawaii, Holiday, Las Vegas, Pinstripe Bowl, Quick Lane, RedBox and Sun.

The Ohio State-Michigan wipeout introduces yet one more twist into a highly unconventional college football season. While Ohio State is one of the elite teams in the country, it has played only five games. That makes the Buckeyes ineligible for the Big Ten championship game. Teams without conference championships rarely are voted into the four-team College Football Playoff held in January.

Contesting the playoff without one of the top draws in the country would be problematic — and potentially damaging to TV ratings. The semi-final round is slated for New Year’s Day. That helps explain why a meeting of the Big Ten athletic directors has reportedly been called for Wednesday, which could offer an opportunity to adjust the six-game minimum rule.

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