Cal football’s season opener will have to wait. The Pac-12 approved Cal’s request to cancel its game Saturday night against Washington as the Bears were left short-handed after a positive COVID-19 test and subsequent contact tracing.
The Pac-12 announced Thursday the scheduled game Saturday at 7:30 p.m. will not be made up and 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,” the conference said, just three days after it unveiled its in-season COVID-19 protocols for the seven-game, seven-week Pac-12 season.
The unnamed Cal player who tested positive remains asymptomatic. He tested positive on a daily antigen test and a follow-up PCR test earlier this week.
He was the first member of the football program to test positive since Cal began daily testing at the start of October. Because of school and Berkeley Public Health protocols for contact tracing, the athletics department said several players are in quarantine, which affected the team’s ability to field a competitive roster.
Pac-12 protocol calls for athletes with confirmed positives to isolate for at least 10 days and until symptoms resolve. An athlete who has had high-risk contact with a confirmed positive must quarantine for 14 days, putting Cal’s Nov. 14 game at Arizona State in jeopardy, as well.
Cal coach Justin Wilcox and athletic director Jim Knowlton both agreed that team would be missing too many players to be able to adequately compete against Washington on Saturday. They said the Bears would have been left with less than the Pac-12’s mandated number of at least 53 scholarship players available for the game at Memorial Stadium.
The Pac-12 told teams that in addition to needing at least 53 scholarship players to play, that number has to include at least one quarterback, four defensive linemen and seven offensive linemen available or a game could be declared a no contest or be postponed.
Despite the minimum scholarship rules, though, the conference has a provision to still give the team affected the option to play the game.
Wilcox had warned reporters Wednesday the large number of players who are in quarantine would present “a significant hurdle” for the opener.
Knowlton then formally made the request of the Pac-12 to call things off Saturday.
“We know how much our team and the greater Cal Athletics community was looking forward to the start of the football season this weekend. While we are disappointed in our inability to play this week, we are confident that we have made the right decision,” Knowlton said in a statement. “As we have seen across the country, we knew that there would be COVID-19 challenges, and we will continue to follow our protocols to support the health of our student-athletes.”
Not everyone agreed with the decision.
Junior wide receiver Nikko Remigio, on Twitter, wrote: WOW . . . UNBELIEVABLE! WE WANT TO PLAY! LET US PLAY!”
He later defended the team’s protocols, citing outdoor weightlifting and meetings.
Linebacker Kuony Deng simply put an emoji of a broken red heart on his Twitter feed.
Wilcox said he understands the disappointment Cal’s players are feeling.
“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,” he said. “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.”
It’s still unclear how the situation might impact Cal’s game next week at Arizona State. Pac-12 protocol calls for athletes with confirmed positives to isolate for at least 10 days and until symptoms resolve. An athlete who has had high-risk contact with a confirmed positive must quarantine for 14 days. And the city of Berkeley quarantine is policy is to stay at home for 14 days.
The cancellation of this Saturday’s game means that Cal’s first home game this season will be The Big Game when Stanford visits Memorial Stadium on Friday, Nov. 27, the day after Thanksgiving.
Thursday’s news came about an hour after Washington coach Jimmy Lake had finished telling local reporters the game in Berkeley was still on.
Washington athletic director Jen Cohen said while her school was “deeply disappointed” in the cancellation, those in the Huskies program understand why it needed to happen.
“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,” Cohen said, adding they’ve now turned their attention to their new opener against Oregon State next week.
Jeff Faraudo contributed to this report.