Two Pac-12 football games canceled as virus problems linger

Arizona State head coach Herm Edwards, left, congratulates Southern California head coach Clay Helton after an NCAA college football game in Los Angeles, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020.

The Pac-12’s football schedule has been scrambled for a second straight week, with positive COVID-19 tests leading to the cancellation of both the Utah-UCLA and Arizona State-California games.

In a twist, Cal and UCLA quickly scheduled each other to play Sunday morning after their opponents had to drop out.

The Sun Devils’ home opener was nixed Friday because of several positive COVID-19 tests among the team’s players and coaching staff, including head coach Herm Edwards. The school said that the positive tests put the football team below 53 available scholarship players, which is the minimum allowed according to the league’s cancellation policy.

Friday afternoon, Utah determined it didn’t have the minimum number of scholarship players available for the game because of 17 positive COVID-19 cases among players and staff, and 11 resulting players being isolated under contact tracing protocols.

“Our community is especially hard-hit right now by this virus, and our team and our department have been doing everything possible to follow protocols and avoid the spread of the virus,” Utah athletic director Mark Harlan said in a statement. “We were doing very well, day-by-day, and it is extremely difficult for our student-athletes and coaches that they will not be able to compete again this week.”

It’s Arizona State and UCLA’s first cancellation of the year. The Sun Devils lost to USC 28-27 last weekend. UCLA lost to Colorado 48-42 last weekend.

“The cancellation of a game is very difficult to accept for all of us, but it is the right decision under the circumstances,” Arizona State athletic director Ray Anderson said in a statement. “In every case we continue to consider the health, safety and welfare of our student-athletes as our number one priority.”

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham had said earlier this week that the Utes were teetering on the edge of not having enough players available.

“Every day is different,” Whittingham said. “We could get a few more positives this week and that could knock us out for this weekend, so it is a day-to-day thing. We are doing our best to play the game, but if we lose many more guys this week, it may be a situation where we are not able to.”

It’s the second straight week that the Pac-12’s abbreviated six-game schedule has been interrupted. The Utah-Arizona and California-Washington games were both canceled in Week 1.

The 66-year-old Edwards said in a statement that he and his family are fine and encouraged fans to take the virus seriously.

“As I’ve stated many times over, the health, safety and well-being of our student-athletes is absolutely paramount and we will not put them at risk,” Edwards said. “Our team has worked extremely hard to get to this point, and even played a game last weekend. We will continue to care for our students-athletes and follow all protocols very thoroughly as we prepare for our next game. Our team and coaching staff are disappointed, but we do understand what we are dealing with.”

Cal and Utah still haven’t played a game this season. The Golden Bears’ opener against Washington last weekend was also canceled because they couldn’t field a competitive team given the significant number of players affected by the process of contact tracing, coach Justin Wilcox said. The Golden Bears and Utes have just four games remaining on their schedule.

So far, 61 games between schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision have been canceled or postponed because of the pandemic since late August — and 15 this week.

The news comes as the coronavirus cases are soaring across the U.S. Newly confirmed cases per day in the U.S. have rocketed more than 70% over the past two weeks, reaching an average of about 127,000 as of Thursday — the highest on record. And the number of people hospitalized with the virus hit an all-time high of more than 65,000.

See what people are talking about at The Community Table!