SUBSCRIBE NOW
$1 for 3 months. Save 97%.
SUBSCRIBE NOW
$1 for 3 months. Save 97%.

COVID-19 'numbers game' causes turmoil throughout college football for wild stretch Monday

Paul Myerberg
USA TODAY

Arkansas coach Sam Pittman tested positive for COVID-19 and went into isolation. Texas A&M put a pause on team activities after "a couple of positive cases," coach Jimbo Fisher said.

In what coach Ed Orgeron called "a very fluid situation," several players tested positive or are in quarantine as a result of contact tracing at LSU, leaving the upcoming rivalry game against Alabama in doubt.

Auburn and Mississippi State postponed Saturday's game "due to positive tests and subsequent quarantining of individuals within the Mississippi State football program," the SEC said in a statement.

All of this during a two-hour span Monday afternoon.

That doesn't even include one of the biggest names in college basketball, Michigan State coach to Tom Izzo, testing positive, according to the school.

With cancellations thwarting the start of Pac-12 play and another run of bad news in the SEC, the past few days have been a harsh reminder of how fragile the home stretch of this regular season will be for college football.

"Everything about managing through the pandemic has been humbling," Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott told USA TODAY Sports. "It’s a year where we’ve all had to shift our priorities and kind of readjust expectations."

Arkansas coach Sam Pittman will not coach Saturday vs. Florida.

More:Notre Dame AD addresses fan surge in Clemson post-game amid COVID-19 spike in area

More:Alabama takes over No. 1, Notre Dame at No. 2 in NCAA Re-Rank

The setbacks plaguing college football are mirrored by the national increase in cases of COVID-19. There were 105,927 new cases of the coronavirus Sunday, continuing the troubling upswing since September, and all but one state had more cases last week than the week before.

In all, 50 games in the Bowl Subdivision have been cancelled or postponed due to COVID-19, with 13 coming since the start of November.

"It’s a numbers game," said Zach Binney, an epidemiologist at Oxford College of Emory University. "The more cases we have in the country, the more likely anyone is to come into contact with somebody who is infected and therefore the more likely people are to come down with the virus.

"College football players are no exception. They are certainly not in a bubble like you’ve seen in some of the pro sports leagues, so if you’re still interacting with the broader community, including the campus community, the more cases that there are in that community the more that are going to pop up on your team.

"Football, as much as it would like to believe so, is not special in that regard."

The Pac-12 tripped into the regular season this past Saturday with two cancellations and serious questions about the state of affairs across the conference, especially given the lack of open weeks to reschedule games before the end of the regular season.

Utah's opener against Arizona was canceled after multiple positive results for COVID-19 left the Utes short of the 53-scholarship threshold set by the conference. Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said Monday that one player who had contracted the coronavirus "had a tough go of it" and was hospitalized.

Due to safety protocols outlined by local health officials, a single positive test forced California to cancel its opener against Washington and has left Saturday's matchup with Arizona State in doubt — the guidelines require a 14-day quarantine period for those who test positive and those who are then placed into contact tracing.

"What we’ve asked for is the criteria," California coach Justin Wilcox said. "If there’s new information, we’d love to have it."

Monday's rash of developments in the SEC will have a noticeable influence on the race for the conference and the College Football Playoff

LSU and Florida had already postponed October's meeting to Dec. 12, leaving the Tigers without an open date to move Alabama should the two be unable to play Saturday. (The rivalry has been held in every season since 1964.) That Florida has a game scheduled for Dec. 12 can be viewed as a disadvantage — if the Gators end up reaching the SEC championship game on Dec. 19, they'd face an opponent in Alabama coming off a bye week.

Any missed games would have a deep impact on Texas A&M's push for the playoff. Having already lost to Alabama, the Aggies' best chance at finishing in the top four is to win out in style against the rest of the SEC schedule. Playing even one fewer game would diminish the number of data points presented to the playoff selection committee and impact the Aggies' overall strength of schedule.

The question that perplexed administrators and onlookers this summer has resurfaced: Will the FBS be able to wade through cancellations and postponements to cross the finish line?

Over in the Big Ten, Wisconsin has been forced to cancel games against Purdue and Nebraska and is in danger of falling under the minimum number of games required to be eligible for the conference championship, though the university has projected confidence the Badgers would be able to play this weekend's game against Michigan.

But confidence is no match for the coronavirus. As the year rounds the midway point and heads toward December, the only certainty in college football is uncertainty.

"We don't have those issues right now," Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin said. "But that can change tomorrow."