SALT LAKE CITY — A day before Utah was set to kick off its 2020 season against Arizona, the game has been canceled due to a rise in COVID-19 cases within the athletic department.
The athletic department announced Friday afternoon that it was informed of "a number of positive COVID-19 cases among student-athletes within the football program" over the last 24 hours, which "necessitates" cancellation of the game.
"The decision was made following the Pac-12's football game cancellation policy as Utah does not have the minimum number of scholarship student-athletes available for the game due to the positive cases and resulting isolation of additional football student-athletes under contact tracing protocols," the university statement reads.
"The health and safety of our student-athletes and all associated with our program is our highest priority and we will continue to follow all applicable Pac-12 and local health policies and guidelines."
Due to the limited time frame the Pac-12 has to play a season, the game will not be made up and the two programs will have only a maximum of six games this season if no more games are canceled. Utah's road contest against UCLA next week will likely be called into question; however, there has been no word yet on whether the game will be played.
"As difficult as this is, there is no question it is the right decision to make," Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said in a statement. "Our student-athletes' health and well-being is absolutely paramount an we will not put them at risk. Our team has worked extremely hard to get to this point, and we will continue to care for our student-athletes and follow all protocols very thoroughly as we prepare for next week's game."
Under the conference's COVID-19 rules, the game will be declared a "no contest" match, though the conference told Jon Wilner of The Mercury News that the Week 7 games could be used as a makeup date for canceled games. The Pac-12 previously said games canceled would not be made up.
Utah athletic director Mark Harlan said the results returned Friday morning "included a number of positive cases" and that it put the team under the conference's minimum threshold. He and Whittingham discussed the situation "extensively," along with its medical advisors, and it became "extremely clear" the game could not go forward.
"Those with positive test results and those in contact tracing protocols are in isolation and receiving the appropriate care," Harlan said in a statement. "We will continue to monitor our testing results and stay in close communication with our university, local public health officials and the Pac-12 Conference."
Utah's is the second game that has been canceled in the Pac-12 due to COVID-19 this week. On Thursday, the conference approved a game cancellation for Cal-Washington after one positive case forced the stoppage of play. In Utah's case, there are several players in quarantine, which does not give them the necessary number of players needed to field a team — at least 53 scholarship players and at least seven offensive linemen, one quarterback and four defensive linemen are required.
The conference updated its testing protocols on Nov. 2 to include daily point-of-care testing and a PCR test taken 36 hours before game time for the home team and 36 hours before the visiting team traveled.
"The cancellation of this game, following yesterday's cancellation of the Washington at Cal football game, is of course incredibly disappointing to our student-athletes and our fans," the Pac-12 said in a statement. "At the same time, it is an indication that our health and safety protocols are working in identifying positive cases and contact tracing cases.
"While all of us want to see our football student-athletes on the field competing, our number one priority must continue to be the health and safety of all those connected to Pac-12 football programs."
The news comes on a day when the state of Utah reported a record-high 2,987 positive cases of COVID-19, which is nearly 200 more than Thursday's then-record of 2,807 positive cases of the virus. Utah, like many states in the country, has seen a surge in cases recently and currently has a 19.7% positive rate among those tested.
Utah's football team, which has elected to not release the number of positive tests it has had among athletes since the pandemic started, has managed a fairly smooth operation, according to those close to the program. Whittingham said Wednesday, though, that there were expected to be a lot of changes to rosters this season due to COVID-19.
"As far as how we're going to handle it, that's all up to the medical people. We as coaches have no say," Whittingham said Wednesday. "There's a protocol: If you get COVID, then you're in quarantine for X amount of days; if you had a high-risk exposure in quarantine, then for X amount of days. So, it's all mapped out with no flexibility and no decisions to make. It's all cut and dry.
"And, again, it's how our medical staff and the Pac-12 medical people have ascribed to a protocol, and we adhere to that, and we just hope for the best. But you're going to see, during the course of the season we're sure, a lot of changes in the lineups because of the COVID situation."
The university's case count dashboard lists a total of 1,068 positive cumulative cases among students since Aug. 24, with 17 daily positive cases reported Friday. An additional 18 positive cases were reported from faculty and staff Friday, with a total of 175 positive cumulative cases. Those numbers, however, include only self-reported data for all students on campus and do not isolate student-athletes in their report.