A surge in players testing positive for the coronavirus forced the Maryland football program on Wednesday to suspend all activities. The university also said that Saturday’s game against No. 3 Ohio State would be canceled and not rescheduled.
The school announced that eight players tested positive for COVID-19 over the past seven days. That number influenced athletic director Damon Evans and president Darryll Pines to make the decision to stop all team-related activities following the recommendation of university health officials and in consultation with officials from the Big Ten.
“There is nothing more important than the health and well-being of our student-athletes, coaches and staff,” Evans said in a statement distributed by the school. “We realize that this news is disappointing to all of the Maryland fans out there who were looking forward to the Terps taking on an outstanding Ohio State team, but the responsible thing for us to do is pause football activities, given the number of positive cases currently in our program.”
Sophomore punter Anthony Pecorella used an emoji to express his reaction to the development.
A source said players were being moved to a hotel to isolate from possible further infection.
Mark Roski, a parent liaison to the football team, said he had yet to survey parents' reaction to the decision, but said he personally agreed with the suspension.
“Obviously with COVID, there is nothing guaranteed, nothing foolproof or risk-free,” said Roski, whose son Zack is a senior tight end on the team. “But I think right from the start, Maryland and the Big Ten have done a fantastic job. Pretty much every move they have made is in the best interest of the players' health and safety. Now that this information has come out, I for one am in favor of the pause. We don’t want this spread around any more than it already is. So pausing everything is just another measure to take in the interest of the players' health and safety.”
The Terps were 2-1 overall and 2-1 in the conference after Saturday’s 35-19 victory at Penn State. The team’s surprisingly strong start and the emergence of sophomore quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, the younger brother of former Alabama star and current Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, had generated some anticipation for Saturday’s game against the Buckeyes (3-0, 3-0), a candidate for the College Football Playoff.
“We’re obviously extremely disappointed that we’ll be unable to host Ohio State this Saturday,” coach Michael Locksley said. “It was an opportunity that our team was preparing for and excited about. However, we have and always will keep our players, coaches and staff’s safety at the forefront of our decision-making process. We’ll continue to operate as much as we can virtually as we monitor the situation in hopes of returning to play when it’s deemed safe.”
Ohio State coach Ryan Day was sympathetic for what Maryland must endure.
“The health, safety and well-being of our student-athletes is our main concern,” Day said through a team spokesman. “Obviously, we are disappointed at not being able to compete this week, but I am incredibly proud of our team and the way they have handled themselves throughout this entire pandemic. We wish Maryland, their student-athletes and programs well as they battle through this issue.”
It is unclear whether any infected players participated in Saturday’s 35-19 win at Penn State. A Nittany Lions spokesperson told the Centre Daily Times, “Penn State football continues its preparation for Saturday’s game at Nebraska. We will continue to monitor the health and safety of our student-athletes and staff through the Big Ten testing and medical protocols.”
The university also announced that 1,510 on-campus PCR screening tests have been conducted for student-athletes across all sports between September 30 and November 10. Ten student-athletes have tested positive.
Big Ten Network football analyst Glen Mason called the outbreak “unfortunate.”
“But I don’t think anybody can be shocked by it,” said Mason, who served as head coach at Minnesota, Kansas and Kent State. “Some people are shocked when it hits their team, but if you look at the landscape of college football right now, it seems like there isn’t a conference that is immune to it. I think everybody is trying to do their absolute best to manage this virus, but at times no matter what you do, it rears its ugly head.”
Maryland is the second Big Ten school to deal with a coronavirus outbreak. Wisconsin was forced to cancel two games after a surge in COVID-19 cases. Thirty members of the program — 17 players and 13 staff — have tested positive since Oct. 21, but the university was down to five active cases on Monday, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.
As part of the Big Ten Conference protocols, football student-athletes began testing daily on Sept. 30 and men’s and women’s basketball teams began testing daily on Oct. 26.
The Southeastern Conference postponed four games this week over coronavirus worries. Games between No. 1 Alabama and LSU, No. 5 Texas A&M and Tennessee, No. 12 Georgia and Missouri, and No. 24 Auburn and Mississippi State have been rescheduled for later in the season.
Mason, the Big Ten Network analyst, said he is optimistic that the Terps may be able to resume its season.
“That’s what we’ve seen, that these programs — no matter what conference they’re in — seem to hit a bump in the road with some bumps being bigger than others, but it doesn’t derail them for the whole season,” he said. “They keep going.”
Players who test positive are required by the Big Ten to wait at least 14 days from their initial test to undergo cardiac screening. If they are cleared, they must then navigate another seven days of practice before returning to competition.
And according to the conference, a team must play at least six games to qualify for consideration for the Big Ten championship game. So the Terps can afford to lose only one more game from their original eight-game schedule to be eligible for the conference title game.
Roski, the parent liaison, said the primary concern is the health of the players, coaches and staff.
“That is the main goal here, the safety of these players,” he said. “But it’s also disappointing that we’re not going to be able to play a game. We’ve been playing very well. Ohio State would have been a great matchup to really see what we’re made of right now. So yeah, I’m disappointed that we won’t be able to play that game.”
Mason said the canceled game is a setback for both Maryland and Ohio State.
“This comes at an inopportune time for both teams because Ohio State is on a roll and they’re trying to win the Big Ten and get to the College Football Playoff,” he said. “And if you look at the start that Mike Locksley has had with Maryland, to say that he’s showing progress is an understatement. They’re right in the thick of it as far as the East Division. … Ohio State is about what everybody thought they would be. But if you look at Maryland, there are some good surprises in the Big Ten and right now, Maryland is one of them.”