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Virus Cases at Ohio State Loom Ahead of National Championship Game

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A college football season perpetually knocked sideways by the coronavirus pandemic is now preparing for a potential final blow as leaders consider whether they might need to postpone Monday’s national championship game because of virus cases at Ohio State, which is scheduled to play No. 1 Alabama for the title.

College Football Playoff executives, in conjunction with school and conference administrators, are considering a contingency plan if Ohio State is unable to field enough players in a position group, according to officials familiar with the deliberations.

Alabama Media Group first reported that the game in Miami Gardens, Fla., was in jeopardy of being delayed.

Bill Hancock, the playoff’s executive director, said in a brief interview Tuesday night that he and other organizers intended for the game to be played as scheduled.

“Nothing has changed,” Hancock said. “The game is on Jan. 11, as scheduled, and we’re looking forward to it.”

Still, the championship game may be as tenuous as many matchups have been this season, some of which have been canceled just hours before kickoff. A conference official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the deliberations were confidential and continuing, said that Ohio State had warned of new cases inside its third-ranked program — and of the possibility that testing in the coming days could reveal more troubles — but said that a postponement was not thought to be imminent.

“We continue to follow the same protocols we have all season,” Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith said. “We plan to play on January 11th.”

In a post on Twitter on Tuesday evening, Greg Byrne, Alabama’s athletic director, said he had repeatedly spoken with Smith and that “both schools are focused” on playing on Jan. 11.

Ohio State and Alabama have been two of the least transparent schools to play football this fall, neither releasing any substantive data about the number of positive cases within their football teams. Both coaches, Ryan Day of Ohio State and Nick Saban of Alabama, have missed games after testing positive.

Ohio State has been particularly impacted by the pandemic. It has missed three games — two of which were canceled by an opponent — because of the virus. Ohio State also played two late-season games, including the Big Ten championship game, with more than 20 players sidelined, almost all of them presumably because of the virus.

In fact, the virus nearly waylaid the Buckeyes’ championship hopes. They had to petition the Big Ten to waive the six-game minimum requirement to be eligible for the conference title. After beating Northwestern, Ohio State successfully lobbied the conference to reduce from 21 to 17 the number of days players were required to sit out after a positive test, which ensured that players who tested positive three days before the Northwestern game could return for the semifinal victory over Clemson barring further setbacks.

Alabama has also known its share of disruptions. Its game against Louisiana State had to be rescheduled because of virus troubles at L.S.U., and the Rose Bowl, in which it defeated Notre Dame in a playoff semifinal, was relocated from its usual home in Pasadena, Calif., to Arlington, Texas, less than two weeks before the game.

The playoff has not used uniform testing protocols for the four schools in the field. They are left to adhere to their conference rules, which vary among leagues.

The Southeastern Conference requires its schools to test three times per week, though Alabama has said it tests more often. Ohio State is required under Big Ten protocols to conduct daily antigen tests, which must be recorded before each practice or game. Players who test positive are then given polymerase chain reaction tests, which are considered more reliable, to confirm the rapid test.

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