CHAMPAIGN — On the eve of its biggest game of the year, the Illinois football team found out it wouldn't be playing on Saturday.
Illinois was scheduled to play No. 4 Ohio State, but late Friday it was announced the game had been canceled because of "an elevated number of COVID-19 tests within the Ohio State program." It's the the first time this season that a game involving Illinois has been canceled. The game will not be made up and will be considered a "no contest" by the Big Ten Conference. It's the second Big Ten game this week that has been canceled, joining Wisconsin-Minnesota.
“We are certainly disappointed that (Saturday's) game against Ohio State was cancelled,” said Illinois head coach Lovie Smith in a statement. “In these uncertain times, and having seen similar situations around the nation, we have always been aware that this could occur to us as well. All of us in collegiate athletics place the health and safety of our student-athletes at the highest level. We hope the Ohio State players and staff who have contracted the COVID virus recover quickly so they can continue their season.”
Illinois is scheduled to host Iowa Dec. 5 in Champaign.
"Wow ... We was really looking forward to this one," Illinois linebacker Milo Eifler wrote in a tweet.
News began surfacing earlier in the week from Columbus, Ohio, that there were positive tests within the program and on Friday the university announced that head coach Ryan Day was one of the positive tests.
The Ohio State Department of Athletics has paused all team-related football activities. The decision to cancel and pause was made jointly by Director of Athletics Gene Smith, University President Kristina M. Johnson, head team physician Dr. Jim Borchers and in consultation with the Big Ten Conference. Further positive tests were discovered Friday afternoon.
“We have continued to experience an increase in positive tests over the course of this week,” Gene Smith said. “The health, safety and well-being of our student-athlete is our main concern, and our decisions on their welfare will continue to be guided by our medical staff.”
This is the second game Ohio State has lost because of COVID. The Buckeyes were scheduled to play Maryland on Nov. 14, but that game was canceled because of positive tests within the Maryland program.
Ohio State resume its team activities when its medical staff determines it is safe to do so based on protocols established by the Big Ten Conference.
Illinois has had its own COVID-related hurdles this season. Starting quarterback Brandon Peters and tight end Griffin Moore each tested positive for COVID on Oct. 29 and missed three weeks, which set Illinois into a contact tracing web that sidelined a handful of other players for two weeks. The Illini were without their first and second string quarterbacks against Purdue and Minnesota — both losses.
“Our conversation is that we want to build on last week’s game," Lovie Smith said on Monday. "We did a lot of good things right last week. I thought we made improvement from the previous game. That’s what we want to do this week. We had an excellent week of practice last week and it carried over to the game. You start with that and with us doing everything we possibly can to put us in a position to play our best game."
“Ohio State has been one of the best teams in our conference for a long period of time. We knew they were on the schedule, we knew the exposure a game like this would bring to our program and we’ll be ready to go."
Taking a Dive
On the loose
University of Illinois Football
Coming at ya
A coming through
Mowing them down
That's my buddy
On the run
Lean on me
Way to go
The peoples' choice
Contact Joey Wagner at (217) 421-6970. Follow him on Twitter: @mrwagner25
Wow... We was looking forward to this one— Milo (@_miloeifler) November 28, 2020