BY Art Thiel 03:38PM 11/05/2020

Thiel: Covid-19 at Cal cancels Huskies’ opener

A Covid-19 breakout among Bears players forced Pac-12 to cancel Washington’s opener at Cal. As the infection rate spikes nationally, a football season becomes a random act.

Washington’s season-opening game at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley was cancelled Thursday. / Roman Fuchs, Wikimedia Commons

The Pac-12 Conference was first to the hilltop, shouting warnings about Covid-19 and refusing to play. Then it was the last to the party, rejoining the rest of college football after conversion to a new biotech testing solution that promised a safe salvage of part of the season.

This week the conference discovered that there is still no defense against the infernal contagion. Swift, accurate testing didn’t keep the Washington Huskies and Cal Bears from becoming the first in the conference to pay the price.

Their season opener Saturday night in Berkeley was cancelled because of an outbreak detected Wednesday night among Bears players. The game was declared “no contest” by the conference and can’t be made up because there are no byes in the already shortened seven-game season that ends the weekend of Dec. 18.

“The Pac-12 has approved a request from Cal to cancel the Washington at Cal football game scheduled for November 7,” the media company said in a statement.  “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.”

UW athletics director Jen Cohen issued a statement:

Our students, coaches and staff have put in 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. 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.

The unidentified Cal player who tested positive for COVID-19 remains asymptomatic, according to the San Jose Mercury News. He was the first member of the football program to test positive since Cal began daily testing at the start of October.

The athletics department said several players are in quarantine, which ended the chance to field a competitive roster.

Cal coach Justin Wilcox, a former Huskies assistant coach in 2012-13, knew the game was in trouble Wednesday night.

“It’s a tricky situation as we all know,” he said on a Zoom conference. “We are glad to report that the one positive is asymptomatic and everybody’s healthy. But the result of the contact tracing is significant, We will hopefully learn in the short term where that leads us, but it’s a significant hurdle.”

It was the 45th college game to be cancelled or postponed, according to USA Today. The virus is entering a third wave across the U.S. with a record rate of infections. The state of Washington hit a single-day record Wednesday with 1,469 new cases.

UW’s next game is the home opener at Oregon State at 8 p.m. Nov. 14. Cal expects to play its next game the same day against Arizona State in Tempe. Cal’s first home game this season will be The Big Game, when Stanford visits Memorial Stadium Nov. 27.

Whether the games get played is a hope more than a fact. Jimmy Lake, still looking to coach his first game as Huskies head man almost a year after his appointment, was on a Zoom call this morning thinking the game would be played, which in hindsight sounded naive. But he clearly understood the fragility of the Pac-12’s desperate season.

“Here’s the interesting thing about it,” he said. “We can do everything perfectly, and stay in our bubble, and wear our mask. I drive from here to my house and back to here, and I don’t go out, I don’t go to any restaurants, and our staff doesn’t either, just to make sure we don’t get infected.

“We could do everything perfect, but then all of a sudden, if our opponent has a slip-up, then our game can be canceled, and it won’t be made up. It’s something I can’t control, so there’s not going to be anxiety on my part at all. But it does have a little bit of a helpless feeling knowing we can prepare for a game, and then through no fault of our own, a game could be canceled with no room to make it up.”

Since Commissioner Larry Scott called the Pac-12 a media company, content remains king. Even as the public health situation worsens nationally and locally, entertainment must be pursued. It did the right thing by following its own virus guidelines and cancelling the game. Scott just hasn’t figured out how to inoculate against randomness.

 


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YourThoughts

  • Estip

    Could there possibly be a bright side to this disappointing situation? Well, the Huskies now have an extra week to prepare for the mighty Beavs.

    • art thiel

      I’m thinking they’ve been prepping for anyone for about 10 months.

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  • Husky73

    On a football note…imagine that!…..I have been to every Pac 12 stadium. Cal remodeled their stadium several years ago. Parking was $60 and about a mile away. We entered at the top, just to the left of the C in the photo. Only the end zone has a mid-entrance, as you can see under the scoreboard on the far left. We then walked down about 80 rows (!!) to our seats, which means 80 rows back up. Above the top row are the restrooms— which consist of about 75 port-a-potties lined up. What an embarrassment for one of the great universities in the world! My evening, however, became delightful as John Ross and Jake Browning put on an incredible performance.

  • Seattle Psycho

    I believe this is only going to get worse as the temps continue to fall. Should have just canceled the season as they originally did. Not a betting man but if you put the over/under of how many Conference games the Huskies play this year at 5, I’d take the under. The Pac-12 is going to take a beating for this by all of the networks who now must scramble to find games or other things to show and advertisers are going to want money back. Just a completely terrible situation to have placed themselves in.

    Maybe if we can get a decision on whom will be president the evening of January 20, 2021, Covid will go away magically as the current occupant predicted it would immediately after the election.

    • art thiel

      The Pac-12 counters that revenue from every TV game is money they wouldn’t otherwise have had if they cancelled the season. The Pac-12’s two cancelled brought to 10 nationally for Saturday alone. The rapid-testing protocol is helping stop the spread, but everyone knows testing doesn’t prevent infection. Players and schools seem willing to live with the risk, even in the face of record infection levels nationally.

  • Husky73

    On a football note…imagine that!…..I have been to every Pac 12 stadium. Cal remodeled their stadium several years ago. Parking was $60 and about a mile away. We entered at the top, just to the left of the C in the photo. Only the end zone has a mid-entrance, as you can see under the scoreboard on the far left. We then walked down about 80 rows (!!) to our seats, which means 80 rows back up. Above the top row are the restrooms— which consist of about 75 port-a-potties lined up. What an embarrassment for one of the great universities in the world! My evening, however, became delightful as John Ross and Jake Browning put on an incredible performance.

    • art thiel

      I haven’t been to the stadium since the remodel, but your review of it confirms all I’ve heard. The athletic program is deep in the red. At both Cal and Stanford, the fan bases have been small, because college football isn’t that big a deal in the Bay Area, or among alums. It seems they they think college is about learning instead of entertaining the masses. What a thing.

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  • jafabian

    Right decision to make. Props to both schools for pushing that through and not the game.

    • art thiel

      I agree. The protocols were made by doctors, not fans.