Alabama’s Kristen Saban controversy, explained: A tweet about Ohio State’s COVID-19 cases gone wrong

The College Football Playoff national championship between No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 Ohio State has all the makings of a climactic finale for the 2020 season.

And that was before Kristen Saban Setas added fuel to the fire.

When news broke Tuesday that COVID-19 issues among Buckeyes players could potentially result in a postponement, Setas — the daughter of Alabama coach Nick Saban — took to Twitter to vent her frustrations with the situation.

“If you’re not confident to play then SAY IT,” Saban Setas wrote on Twitter (her account has since been deleted). “I call BS on the COVID cases. They’re just worried about their QB and want him to have more time to heal. If he’s hurt put in your backup. You didn’t see us postpone the rest of the season to wait for Waddle. BYE.”

Setas deleted the message shortly thereafter, but doubled down with another tweet: “Oops, did I say something you didn’t like that you would say if it were turned around on us?”

Hours later, Setas issued an apology before deleting her account entirely.

“The tweet I posted earlier this evening was uncalled for and hurtful,” she wrote. “In a moment of frustration, I let my anger get the best of me and acted before thinking. … In no way did I intend to undermined (sic) the seriousness of the global pandemic. … I am ashamed and embarrassed.”

Setas isn’t the only person to make similar accusations regarding the coronavirus. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney claimed Florida State fudged COVID-19 numbers the week of their game as an excuse to avoid playing. ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit also claimed Michigan could “wave the white flag” and use false numbers to avoid playing rival Ohio State. (He later apologized for and retracted the statement).

Here’s everything you need to understand about Ohio State’s COVID-19 issues, Fields’ injury and how they contributed to Setas’ Twitter outburst:

Justin Fields’s rib injury

Setas’ accusation stems from the erroneous assumption Ohio State was trying to buy time for quarterback Justin Fields to recover from an injury: He took a scary shot to his rib cage in the Sugar Bowl when Clemson linebacker James Skalski lowered his head and speared him in the back. The hit caused Fields to lay prone on the field while trainers evaluated him; while play was paused, Skalski was ejected for targeting.

Fields only missed one play after the hit, but was clearly in pain for the remainder of the game as he led the Buckeyes to a 49-28 win. That said, Fields said he received no diagnosis following the game.

“They didn’t really tell me anything. I took a shot or two and just ran back out there,” Fields said (via USA Today). “But it’s pretty much my whole right is sore. That’s messed up. And a little, my hip. But they didn’t really give me a diagnosis at all. “

For what it’s worth, Ohio State coach Ryan Day on Tuesday said he “definitely” expects Fields to play. His quarterback said the same thing:

“I’ll be good by Monday night,” he said in a Thursday Zoom call.

Ohio State COVID-19 cases

As for Ohio State’s COVID-19 cases, Day on Thursday confirmed the team was dealing with “a new set of challenges.” He didn’t specify what players or position group was affected by the disease, though the defensive line has reportedly taken the brunt of it.

“Well, any time you deal with that and you lose people, it is a gut punch, Day said via Zoom on Thursday. “But it’s not something that we’re not used to. We’ve played games with the majority of our offensive line out. We played the Big Ten Championship game without our top receivers, or some of our top receivers. We’ve had starters all over the place down at different times, and we’ve found ways to work through it. It’s just been the way it is.

“And you can feel sorry for yourself or you can just continue to work on and push through it. The hard thing is at the end of the day most people don’t really care. They just watch the game and the result is the result.”

Ohio State — and the Big Ten at large — have dealt with COVID-19 issues this season, resulting in three canceled games for the Buckeyes: Maryland, Illinois and Michigan. Said cancellations caused the team to fall below the Big Ten’s six-game eligibility threshold for the conference championship. The Big Ten waived that requirement when it was apparent Ohio State — 5-0 at the time and the conference’s best chance of making the CFP — would otherwise miss it.

The Big Ten on Dec. 20 also announced a change to its COVID-19 safety protocols, allowing diagnosed players to return after 17 days, four days fewer than the previous requisite of 21 days. Whether that has any effect on the title game remains to be seen; Ohio State doesn’t confirm when players test positive for the coronavirus, and won’t release its list of unavailable players until the night of the championship.

That said, CFP executive director Bill Hancock, Ohio State and Alabama on Friday all confirmed the teams will play on Monday:

“As I have said all week, the game is on,” Hancock told ESPN on Friday. “Nothing has changed. Alabama’s team will be traveling to Miami tonight and Ohio State’s guys will be arriving tomorrow. We are looking forward to a great night for college football.”

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