The season opener scheduled for Saturday between California and Washington was canceled following a request from the Golden Bears due to a positive coronavirus test for one of their players.
The cancellation was a big blow for the Pac-12 as the conference prepares to kick off a seven-game football slate after league programs had watched other teams around the country playing for weeks.
California doesn’t have the minimum number of scholarship players available for the game as a result of the positive test and the need for other players to isolate under contact tracing protocols, the Pac-12 said in a statement Thursday.
Pac-12 guidelines require at least 53 scholarship players to be available for a game to be played. The conference said the game would be declared a no-contest.
“It is very disappointing that we will not be opening our 2020 season this Saturday night against Washington,” Cal coach Justin Wilcox said. “My heart goes out first and foremost to all of our players who have been through so much since the pandemic began and worked so hard under difficult circumstances to prepare themselves to play. They have done so well following the protocols that have been put in place, but as we are finding out first-hand, playing football during 2020 is a fragile situation.”
About an hour before the announcement from the conference, Washington coach Jimmy Lake said his team was still preparing as if the game would be played.
“Our students, coaches and staff have put in an incredible amount of hard work to get to this point and we are deeply disappointed they won’t have the opportunity to compete Saturday in Berkeley,” Washington athletic director Jennifer Cohen said in a statement.
Wilcox had said Wednesday night that the game was in jeopardy because of the large number of players needing contact tracing. The school said the player with a positive test is asymptomatic. He took his regular daily antigen test and then a supplemental PCR test, which also showed a positive result. This marked the first positive test on Cal’s football team since practices began last month.
Wilcox and athletic director Jim Knowlton determined the Bears couldn't field a competitive team.
“The health and well-being of our student-athletes is always at the forefront of our decision-making,” Knowlton said. “We have been diligent in the development and execution of our return-to-play plan, and our goal all along has been to provide a safe environment and to mitigate risk as much as possible."
The Washington-Cal game marks the seventh FBS game this week and the 44th since Aug. 26 to be postponed or canceled.
“You feel for any and every team that has lost a game or multiple games this year because it could be you have one or two individuals that do something wrong that cost everybody else, but more than likely it just happens,” said Stanford coach David Shaw, whose Cardinal play at Oregon on Saturday to start the season.
The service academy game between Air Force and Army scheduled for Saturday in West Point, New York, was also postponed Thursday due to an increase in COVID-19 cases at the Air Force Academy and the surrounding community in Colorado. The schools are working to reschedule the game.
Air Force can regain possession of the coveted Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy should it beat Army. The Falcons began the annual round-robin competition between the service academies with a 40-7 win over Navy on Oct. 3. The winning academy goes to the White House to receive the trophy from the president.
Air Force has games scheduled the next four weeks, while Army has two games before its customary pair of bye weeks leading up to its Dec. 12 matchup against Navy, which has been moved to Michie Stadium for the first time since World War II because of the pandemic. The Black Knights have already accepted a berth in the Independence Bowl the day after Christmas, so the only windows to host Air Force would be either before the Navy game or during the week after it.
Earlier Thursday, the American Athletic Conference postponed the Tulsa at Navy game scheduled for Saturday because of positive COVID-19 cases and contact tracing at Navy.
Also Thursday, Minnesota announced defensive coordinator Joe Rossi would not coach Saturday against Illinois because he had tested positive for COVID-19.
This is the fourth time a Tulsa game has been postponed or canceled because of COVID cases. Tulsa's game against Oklahoma State was pushed back a week to Sept. 19 because Tulsa had COVID issues. The Golden Hurricane were supposed to play Arkansas State on Sept. 26, but the Red Wolves couldn't put a two-deep lineup together. That game has not been rescheduled. Tulsa was set to play Cincinnati last month, but the Bearcats said they couldn't play, and the game was moved to Dec. 5.
“We knew that this season would be different in the face of the pandemic, and unfortunately has forced another weekend without football for our team,” Tulsa athletic director Rick Dickson said. “I’m disappointed for our football student-athletes and coaches who continue to work and practice diligently, but it reinforces the challenge facing all programs.”
Navy halted all football activities after positive COVID-19 cases among players and players being placed in quarantine after contact tracing determined they had high-risk contact with an infected person. Navy did not specify the number of players affected.
Later Thursday, Saturday's game between North Texas and Louisiana Tech also was postponed due to the number of COVID-19 cases and subsequent contact tracing. The teams are working together with Conference USA to reschedule the game and are hopeful it can be played the weekend of Dec. 5.