There are certain things you can count on every college football season.
Debate will rage about the worthiness of undefeated ‘Team X’ and whether it should be allowed into the national championship game/BCS/CFB Playoff. Pretty fall foliage will serve as a gorgeous backdrop to big games. There will be too many bowl games.
And — somehow, someway — Ohio University and Miami University will play in the annual ‘Battle of the Bricks.’
Chalk another one up to 2020.
Positive COVID-19 tests and the subsequent contact tracing within the Bobcats’ football program forced OU to cancel this year’s ‘Battle,’ which was scheduled for Tuesday night in Oxford. For the first time since 1944, OU and Miami will not meet on a football field.
The programs’ first meeting was in 1908. The teams have played every year since 1928, with only a two-year break (1943-44) during World World II. Miami has won the last two meetings after Ohio claimed 11 of the previous 12.
“The decision to cancel the game was based on roster issues due to test results contact tracing,” Ohio head coach Frank Solich said in a statement released Sunday. “Out of caution, we’ve made the proactive decision to limit our team activities for now. We look forward to getting back on the field soon and competing.”
The game was the first canceled in the Mid-American Conference this season, and the conference declared the game a no contest. The MAC’s plan for a six-week, league-only season – which began earlier this month – doesn’t have room for a make-up date later in the schedule.
The fact the game was canceled isn’t a surprise to anyone who has paid attention to COVID-19 trends in recent weeks, or how they’ve played out across the college football landscape in the last month.
Two weeks ago, 10 games were canceled or postponed by COVID-19 issues. Last week that number rose to 15, with eight of the 10 FBS conferences dealing with at least one displaced game. After Saturday, there had been 66 games canceled or postponed due to COVID issues this season.
Just 24 hours later, that number had jumped to 66. Joining OU-Miami on the coronavirus heap for the upcoming week are also games between UAB and UTEP, and Arizona State and Colorado. It’s a number sure to climb as more testing is done this week by every program in the country.
Ohio athletics director Julie Cromer said such stoppages were an unavoidable possibility this season.
“While we are disappointed for our student-athletes, coaches, fans and alumni that the Battle of the Bricks will not be contested this week, we knew schedule disruptions could be a possibility this season,” Cromer said in a statement. “The health and safety of our student-athletes remain our number one priority.”
It’s a disappointing blow for the Bobcats, who – by all accounts – have done an admirable job of adhering to COVID protocols since the season resumed roughly six weeks ago. The Bobcats are obsessive about wearing masks, even in practice, and social distancing.
Solich acknowledged the tenuous nature of the season on Friday during his scheduled weekly press conference.
“I think we all kind of had an understanding going in that you’re going to have to be very, very, very fortunate to go through the season without some problems popping up,” Solich said.
“I think it’s a day-by-day thing, and, certainly, a week-by-week thing, in terms of whether you’re going to be able to play your next game.”
That was certainly the case for OU this week.
With the announcement, both Ohio (1-1) and Miami (1-1) saw their foray into midweek #MACtion ended for 2020. Both programs are scheduled for Saturday games over the final three games of their season.
What it means for OU
Ohio University declined to offer specifics about the situation facing the Bobcats, other than the fact there was apparently more than one positive result in the latest round of testing – believed to be conducted on Sunday.
Ohio has played two games this season with at least three expected contributors held out of action due to COVID complications – either positive tests or contact tracing. OU has repeatedly declined to provide testing results regarding one specific program within the athletic department, and has a policy of not naming individuals who have tested positive.
Multiple sources disputed the notion of an “outbreak” within the program. And that could be accurate. Just a couple of positives, and the branches from there that contact tracing would provide, would – in theory – be enough to compromise a position group and make fielding a full team an impossibility. And that’s including the potential for staff and personnel testing, and how that might impact OU’s ability to play.
But without OU offering any specifics, the scope and breadth of the testing – and the positivity rate within the program – remains unknown to the public.
The Bobcats aren’t scheduled to play again until Saturday, Nov. 28 – two days after Thanksgiving – against Bowling Green at Peden Stadium. The nearly two-week window should give Ohio time enough to get the in-question players and/or staff cleared and back in the mix.
How does the cancelation affect the MAC East Division title race? It could be a non-factor, or it could loom large. It depends on if, or how many, MAC games ultimately get wiped out by COVID.
The MAC did confirm two important items to note in that regard on Sunday night:
- Teams must complete a minimum of 50 percent of their games to be eligible for the division title (3 games)
- Overall MAC winning percentage is the divisional metric that matters most. For instance, a 3-0 team would win the division over a team sitting at 4-1.
End of an era
Pete Lalich has endured midweek start times, late-night return trips, bad seasons, awful games and white-knuckling weather in his more than a half-century of attending the ‘Battle of the Bricks.’
He’s seen big comebacks, large leads lost and everything in between. And Lalich, now 76, has attended each and every Ohio-Miami football game for the last 53 years.
Lalich is nearly as much of an Athens institution as OU itself. He served for decades as a social studies teacher at Athens High School. He was the long-time chair of the Democratic Party in Athens County. In retirement, he’s served as a class-checker, booster, advisor, tutor and confidant for multiple generations of Ohio athletes.
Lalich’s father, uncle and brother all played basketball at Ohio. He’s met and/or known every OU men’s hoops coach since the 1920s.
And each fall, for the last 53 years, he’s attended the ‘Battle of the Bricks’ in person. Even this year, the on-going nightmare that has been 2020, wasn’t going to keep him making the trip to Oxford next week.
Until it didn’t.
The coronavirus won this round. Lalich believes the Bobcats will win the next one.
“I feel sad that the Bobcats didn’t get the chance to beat Miami,” Lalich said, when reached for comment on Sunday.
“We’ll get ‘em next year in Athens.”