For the first time since 1917, Michigan and Ohio State will not play each other in football. The University of Michigan Athletic Department announced Tuesday that an increasing number of positive COVID-19 cases within the program resulted in Saturday’s cancellation.
The decision came after the university met with medical experts, health department officials and university administration in Michigan.
"The number of positive tests has continued to trend in an upward direction over the last seven days," Warde Manuel, U-M's Donald R. Shepherd Director of Athletics, said in a media release. "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."
Before the cancellation, sports betting oddsmakers projected a one-sided contest with the largest spread in the history of the rivalry. In the case where a game is canceled, major sportsbooks will refund the bet. DraftKings also said Tuesday that if Ohio State does not play in the Big Ten Championship Game because of COVID, futures bets on the Buckeys to win the conference championship will be refunded.
No. 4 Ohio State opened as 30-point favorites for the showdown with the Wolverines (2-4). It’s believed to be the largest point spread in the history of the rivalry. Only twice since 1995 have the Buckeyes (5-0) been favored by more than 20 points over Michigan, and the spread has never been greater than 21.5.
Michigan was cleared to return to limited practice on Monday, but the program did not make enough progress for the game to go on as scheduled. The team will continue daily testing and will attempt to return for the Big Ten Champions Week of games on Dec. 18-19. The program will need to be fully cleared by medical professionals if the Wolverines season is to continue.
Just eight times since 1995 has there been a double-digit spread between Michigan and Ohio State. In the two largest spreads made by the sportsbooks, Ohio State was favored both times while each team covered one of those contests.
In 2008, No. 10 Ohio State was favored by 20.5 points against a three-win Michigan team under Rich Rodriguez. Ohio State would cover with ease, winning 42-7 in what was the most lopsided result in the previous 40 years of the rivalry.
In the last 16 meetings between the two teams, Michigan has won only once. Ohio State’s dominance and Michigan’s struggles was the result of the largest spread between the two in 2014. The Buckeyes were ranked No. 6 in the country with postseason aspirations, while Michigan was a five-win team with head coach Brady Hoke’s job security in question. Ohio State entered the matchup as 21.5-point favorites — the highest spread between the two schools.
Ohio State would win without the outcome ever really in doubt, 42-28, with Ezekiel Elliott and J.T. Barrett each scoring two rushing touchdowns. But hey, at least Michigan backers could enjoy whatever solace they could find in their team covering.
Michigan would lead 14-7 in the first half and managed to keep it competitive in the third quarter with a Drake Johnson touchdown to tie the game. But Ohio State would outscore Michigan 21-7 the rest of the way.
Besides another Ohio State beatdown, the game was notable for the Buckeyes when Barrett left the game with a broken ankle. Barrett’s injury thrust Cardale Jones into the starting quarterback position, and while the mood was likely bleak in the aftermath of Barrett’s injury announcement, the Buckeyes would go on and win the national title behind the dynamic backfield duo of Jones and Elliott.
Not only has Michigan struggled to earn a win against its main rival, but it has also struggled to cover. In the last 24 games, the Wolverines are 6-18 straight up and just 9-15 against the spread.
Michigan has been one of the worst teams in the country against the spread this season, only covering -3 in the 49-24 season-opening win over Minnesota. Since then, the Wolverines have failed to cover in every game since.