The Pac-12′s football schedule has been scrambled for a second straight week, with positive COVID-19 tests leading to the cancellation of both the Arizona State-California and UCLA-Utah games.
The Sun Devils’ home opener was nixed Friday because of several positive COVID-19 tests among the team’s players and coaching staff, including head coach Herm Edwards. The school said that the positive tests put the football team below 53 available scholarship players, which is the minimum allowed according to the league’s cancellation policy.
“The cancellation of a game is very difficult to accept for all of us, but it is the right decision under the circumstances,” Arizona State athletic director Ray Anderson said in a statement. “In every case we continue to consider the health, safety and welfare of our student-athletes as our number one priority.”
Later Friday, Utah also determined it didn’t have the minimum number of scholarship players available for the game because of positive COVID-19 cases and the resulting isolation of players under contact tracing protocols.
Meanwhile, the Southeastern Conference announced it will use Dec. 19, the day of its conference championship game, as a make-up date for regular-season games. The SEC postponed four games this week, including two that could not be immediately rescheduled because two of the teams involved already have make-up games set for Dec. 12.
In addition, the SEC decided that for the rest of the season it will allow schedule adjustments to be made on Monday nights. Teams that can play will be permitted to find available opponents if their scheduled opponent for the coming Saturday can’t play. Those hastily scheduled matchups can only be made between teams already scheduled to play each other and no rematches will be permitted.
“The added flexibility of a Dec. 19 playing date for teams that do not qualify for the SEC Football Championship and the ability to adjust opponents on five-day notification provide a greater opportunity for our schools to play a full schedule of games in 2020,” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said.
The Pac-12 was also looking into the possibility of some last-minute rescheduling.
UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond said he agreed with the decision to call off the Bruins’ game, but left the door open to the possibility of still playing this weekend.
“As we have said all along, this season is all about remaining flexible, and our team will stay ready to play,” Jarmond said in a statement.
The Pac-12 said the games will be declared a no contest. It’s Arizona State and UCLA’s first cancellation of the year. The Sun Devils lost to USC 28-27 last weekend. UCLA lost to Colorado 48-42 last weekend.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham had said earlier this week that the Utes were teetering on the edge of not having enough players available.
“Every day is different,” Whittingham said. “We could get a few more positives this week and that could knock us out for this weekend, so it is a day-to-day thing. We are doing our best to play the game, but if we lose many more guys this week, it may be a situation where we are not able to.”
It’s the second straight week that the Pac-12′s abbreviated six-game schedule has been interrupted. The Utah-Arizona and California-Washington games were both canceled in Week 1.
The 66-year-old Edwards said in a statement that he and his family are fine and encouraged fans to take the virus seriously.
“As I’ve stated many times over, the health, safety and well-being of our student-athletes is absolutely paramount and we will not put them at risk,” Edwards said. “Our team has worked extremely hard to get to this point, and even played a game last weekend. We will continue to care for our students-athletes and follow all protocols very thoroughly as we prepare for our next game. Our team and coaching staff are disappointed, but we do understand what we are dealing with.”
Cal and Utah still haven’t played a game this season. The Golden Bears’ opener against Washington last weekend was also canceled because they couldn’t field a competitive team given the significant number of players affected by the process of contact tracing, coach Justin Wilcox said. The Golden Bears and Utes have just four games remaining on their schedule.
Also on Friday, No. 15 Coastal Carolina’s game against Troy was canceled because of a “combination of positive COVID-19 tests and injuries to a specific position group within the Troy football program.” The school said the two teams and the Sun Belt Conference are working to reschedule the game at a later date.
So far, 61 games between schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision have been canceled or postponed because of the pandemic since late August — and 14 this week.
The Ivy League also announced Thursday that it would become the first Division I conference this year to cancel all winter sports, including men’s and women’s basketball.
The news comes as the coronavirus cases are soaring across the U.S. Newly confirmed cases per day in the U.S. have rocketed more than 70% over the past two weeks, reaching an average of about 127,000 as of Thursday — the highest on record. And the number of people hospitalized with the virus hit an all-time high of more than 65,000.