COVID-19 has made inroads into the University of Washington football team, enough that all team activities were paused Wednesday, and put the rest of the already brief season in jeopardy.
A notice from UW athletics was sent out Wednesday morning that an increase in positive tests has occurred, stating the program will undergo additional polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing.
The 3-1 Huskies travel to Eugene Friday to play Oregon (3-2) at 1 p.m. Saturday that was supposed to decide the North Division winner for the Pac-12 Conference championship game Dec. 18. If the game isn’t played, UW would win the division by default via highest winning percentage.
Washington has already had its Nov. 7 “opener” at Cal and the Nov. 27 Apple Cup at Washington State canceled because of outbreaks in those programs as virus cases surged nationally to levels unprecedented in the pandemic. Any chance to make up a game with anyone resides in the Dec. 18-19 weekend, which is unscheduled except for the title game.
There has been no move yet to extend the season, although the hope that a Pac-12 team might be in the four-team CFP hunt is all but over. USC (4-0) and Colorado (3-0) remain undefeated and ranked, but aren’t credible with so few games played.
A source told the Seattle Times that results of a Wednesday round of PCR testing won’t be known until Thursday morning, when a decision will be made. The football program has refused to disclose the names or the number of players affected, or whether cases are positive tests or close contacts with players who are positive.
After the 31-26 loss to Stanford, redshirt junior wide receiver Ty Jones let slip the fact that the roster has been disrupted, saying, “It’s tough when we got guys coming out (of the lineup) due to coronavirus.”
Regarding the athletics department as a whole, UW reported Dec. 2 five active positive cases. At the time, 5,607 PCR tests had been given since athletes began returning to campus June 15. Fifty-six positive cases were reported for an infection rate of 0.99 percent.
Notable absences Saturday included LBs Ryan Bowman and Cooper McDonald, WR Puka Nacua and Terrell Bynum and QB Ethan Garbers. Bynum appeared to have sustained a hand injury in the previous game.
When asked Saturday about virus impacts on his team, coach Jimmy Lake said, “Just like the whole country, we’re all dealing with issues, whether it’s injuries or the pandemic, and we’ll continue to deal with that for the rest of the season.”
The conference has set a minimum participation standard per team of 53 scholarship players, including one quarterback, seven offensive linemen and four defensive linemen. That is what has stopped numerous games. WSU coach Nick Rolovich reported after the Cougars opener than his roster had 32 players unavailable, but didn’t offer numbers about which were due to the virus, injuries or suspensions.
If the test reporting Thursday confirms that the outbreak continues and the Huskies lack sufficient players, the team’s participation in a game the following weekend is in jeopardy too. Current guidelines from King County health officials, which are being followed by UW, recommend a 14-day quarantine for close contacts as well as positive tests.
That likely would mean the end of Huskies season at four games.