Washington players and coaches take part in NCAA college football practice Oct. 16 at Husky Stadium in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Washington players and coaches take part in NCAA college football practice Oct. 16 at Husky Stadium in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

UW opener canceled due to positive COVID-19 test at Cal

The game was declared a no contest. Cal said it is unable to field a competitive roster.

By Mike Vorel / The Seattle Times

SEATTLE — Washington was supposed to open its 2020 season against Michigan on Sept. 5.

Then Washington was supposed to open its 2020 season against Stanford on Sept. 26.

Then Washington was supposed to open its 2020 season against Cal on Nov. 7.

After all of that, the Washington Huskies are still waiting.

On Thursday, less than 24 hours after the Cal Golden Bears announced that a player on their team had tested positive for COVID-19, Saturday night’s season opener has been canceled and declared a no contest. The game will not be rescheduled.

It’s the 41st FBS game nationally — and first in the Pac-12’s seven-game, seven-week sprint — to be either postponed or canceled.

“The Pac-12 has approved a request from Cal to cancel the Washington at Cal football game scheduled for November 7,” a Pac-12 Conference statement on Thursday read. “This decision was made under the Pac-12’s football game cancellation policy due to Cal not having the minimum number of scholarship players available for the game as a result of a positive football student-athlete COVID-19 case and resulting isolation of additional football student-athletes under contact tracing protocols.

“Under Conference policy, the game will be declared a no contest. The health and safety of our student-athletes and all those connected to Pac-12 football programs will continue to be our number one priority.”

In a university release, Cal stated the decision was “due to the Golden Bears’ inability to field a competitive roster following the results of one positive COVID-19 test and subsequent contact tracing.”

The positive test was the program’s first since the start of daily testing at the beginning of October. As of Thursday afternoon, the student who tested positive is asymptomatic.

Following a positive daily antigen test, the result was confirmed with a subsequent PCR test. Cal then followed contact tracing and quarantining protocols from University Health Services Infection Control and Berkeley Public Health, which eliminated too many players to field a competitive team.

The Bears did complete a limited practice on Wednesday, though head coach Justin Wilcox conceded that “a significant number” of players were quarantining due to local health authority contact tracing protocols and the development was “a real, real hurdle.”

The Pac-12’s minimum roster thresholds call for at least 53 scholarship players, seven scholarship offensive linemen, one scholarship quarterback and four scholarship defensive linemen to play a game.

And it’s worth emphasizing that the specific contact tracing protocols that prevented Saturday’s game from being played belong to local health authorities in the Bay Area, rather than the Pac-12 Conference. Washington was also willing to host the game on short notice, had that been a viable option, according to a source.

Numerous college football games have already been played nationally involving teams that had players test positive the same week. But it’s possible Cal’s game against Arizona State on Nov. 14 could also be in jeopardy.

On Wednesday, before his game was officially canceled, Wilcox acknowledged the frustration associated with such differing contact tracing policies nationwide.

“The different regions, different cities, different areas, even throughout the west coast, the public health officials may have different interpretations here and there,” Wilcox said. “I think people can get frustrated at looking at why is it like this in one place and not the other? There’s a lot of questions that we all have that there aren’t a lot of answers to.

“I don’t think there’s any one person to fault there. It’s just that everybody’s trying to figure it out the best they can. So that’s what probably makes it a bit difficult at times for people, when there are inconsistencies with how it’s being dealt with.”

Thursday’s news is undeniably difficult for everyone involved.

And the Washington Huskies are still waiting.

“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,” UW athletics director Jen Cohen said in a statement. “I’m also disappointed for Husky Nation, they have been so patient and supportive, and we know they couldn’t wait to cheer on our Dawgs this weekend.

“With that said, the policies and protocols developed by the Pac-12, local and state officials placed the health and safety of students, coaches and staff at the forefront. We will now turn our attention to next week and start our preparations for Oregon State.”

Meanwhile, UW’s athletics department is dealing with COVID-19 issues of its own. The Husky baseball program officially paused offseason workouts on Wednesday following an uptick in positive COVID-19 cases. The university reported nine active positive cases inside the athletics department, though it declined to state which programs those cases are connected to.

In a media session on Thursday morning, prior to the game’s cancellation, UW football coach Jimmy Lake said positive cases within the baseball program are not expected to infiltrate his team’s internal bubble.

“It’s interesting, a negative around here for years has been that the football team’s over here (in our facilities on campus), and we don’t see anybody,” Lake said. “There’s nobody that comes over here. We don’t leave our little footprint here. So that’s been a negative for years, where we don’t get to go hang out with baseball coaches, volleyball coaches and see the other student-athletes.

“But now it’s obviously a positive. We are literally in our own bubble over here. No other student-athletes come over here and our guys don’t leave this footprint at all. So with this coronavirus situation, us being over here by ourselves has turned into a positive.”

Should UW and Cal both finish atop the North division with a 5-0 record, by the way, the tiebreaker determining which program would appear in the Pac-12 title game is the teams’ respective College Football Playoff rankings. The only issue there is that those rankings won’t be unveiled until Tuesday, Dec. 15 — just three days before the championship game is scheduled to take place.

That’s a tough turnaround, but one the Huskies would take.

UW’s football program is now scheduled to open its 2020 season inside Husky Stadium against Oregon State on Nov. 14. Lake will have six Pac-12 games (at most) to make a positive first impression.

The goal, of course, will be to beat the Beavers.

But it might be a win for Washington to even play the game.

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