Saturday’s game between No. 10 Michigan State basketball and Michigan has been postponed due to COVID-19 protocols within the Wolverines’ program, the schools announced less than eight hours before the scheduled tipoff.
It was scheduled for a 2:30 p.m. tipoff at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor on Fox, but the network’s college basketball podcast “Titus & Tate” tweeted early Saturday morning the game had been postponed “due to issues related to COVID-19.”
Michigan in a statement said the team after testing Friday night “fell below the Big Ten Conference roster minimum, with fewer than seven scholarship players available.” The programs will coordinate with the Big Ten Conference office to reschedule the game, according to releases from both schools.
U-M will provide information to fans with tickets to Saturday’s originally scheduled game as soon as possible.
The Spartans are scheduled to host Minnesota at 7 p.m. Wednesday. The Wolverines are scheduled to host No. 3 Purdue at 9 p.m. Tuesday.
MSU coach Tom Izzo said Thursday afternoon he had not heard anything from Juwan Howard or anyone at U-M about the potential for the game being called off. The Spartans went to Ann Arbor on Friday night and went through a shooting practice at Crisler when they arrived.
“Supposedly the Big Ten rule is if you have seven scholarship players and you got a coach. … But there is a little caveat on the bottom of that rule that there’s always an open door to it,” Izzo said Thursday. “I have no idea. I mean, I think Michigan wants to play the game as bad as we want to play the game. If they don’t have enough players and they postpone the game, they postpone the game. I have heard nothing on that.
“I would think that the guys that were out the last game with the new rules if they’re vaccinated — you know, I don’t know that, either. I don’t think any of us know anything about anybody. I got enough problems with my own team. We’re gonna schedule to play the game. If that happens, it’ll be great. And if it doesn’t happen, it’ll be postponed.”
MSU, which leads the Big Ten at 4-0 and is 13-2 overall, has won eight straight games.
Michigan, which is 7-6 and 1-2 in conference play, has lost three of its last four games but had its Dec. 21 game against Purdue Fort Wayne canceled. U-M lost 75-67 at Rutgers on Tuesday while playing without four players and a staff member for “medical reasons,” according to the school.
Big Ten Network reported Brandon Johns Jr., Frankie Collins, Terrance Williams II and Jaron Faulds were out along with video analyst Jaaron Simmons, while a fifth player, guard Zeb Jackson, also did not travel due to personal reasons.
The Wolverines had three conference games canceled last season en route to winning their first Big Ten title under Howard. Their 14-3 league record included the fewest games played in the conference despite U-M not reportedly having an outbreak within its program. (Michigan athletics as a whole shut down when several other programs had multiple positive tests.) Five teams played 19 games and the other eight played all 20, including MSU which reworked its schedule after a 20-day pause due to COVID issues within the roster and coaching staff.
Among those games reworked was the first of two U-M/MSU games. The teams ended up playing a home-and-home in a span of four days at the end of the regular season.
Howard said on a video call with reporters Friday morning that he did not have an update on which players would be available.
“No, we haven’t been good to go 100%,” Howard said. “We’ve just been figuring out ways to navigate what we’ve been dealt with COVID and COVID protocols. We’re trying to stay afloat and stay ready. … To be honest with you, it’s frustrating. But it’s frustrating for us all in the sports world and nonsports world.”
The Big Ten on Dec. 28 changed its rules to eliminate automatic forfeitures should a team or teams be unable to participate due to COVID on the scheduled date of the game. The league office would need to review and approve the decision, and Big Ten chief medical officer Dr. James Borchers would be consulted.
Whether teams have seven scholarship athletes available and at least one coach is factored into the decision-making process, according to the updated league rules. The conference handles rescheduled games, though if they cannot be reschedule, the league could opt for a no-contest or a forfeit.
“A team that is below the number may still decide to compete if deemed safe by appropriate medical personnel (i.e. the decision to postpone a competition will not be automatic even if a team is below the number),” the rules read. “Conversely, a team that is not below the number of requisite competitors and a coach may still determine that it is unsafe to compete. In such case, forfeiture will not be automatic, but an institution would need to demonstrate to the Conference office, including the Chief Medical Officer, the circumstances that have led to a determination that it would be unsafe to compete.
“A team that does not compete, and is unable to demonstrate why it is unsafe to compete, will be assessed a forfeiture. Postponed competitions that do not result in forfeiture but are unable to be rescheduled will be declared ‘no contests.’”
Michigan is scheduled to play at MSU at 12:30 p.m. Jan 29 on CBS.
“I’ve always been the type of guy that’s favored the rules and respect them,” Howard said Friday. “The leadership that’s in place, they have come together and I guess unanimously felt that this is the best way moving forward to continue our season. You’re not gonna always like everything that’s thrown your way, but you have to respect it. And I do respect it.
“And with seven players, one coach that is healthy, if it’s considered you have to play, hey, if we meet the criteria — we met the criteria on Tuesday versus Rutgers, we haven’t got to tomorrow (Saturday) yet. But I pray to God that we have healthy bodies to compete tomorrow, including myself.”