Washington’s game against Oregon on Saturday has been canceled, the Pac-12 announced on Thursday.
Due to an increase in COVID-19 positive tests within the program and the resulting isolation of additional players under contract tracing protocols, the Huskies did not have the minimum number of scholarship players available.
In order to play a game, the Pac-12 requires a minimum of at least 53 scholarship players — including seven scholarship offensive linemen, one scholarship quarterback and four scholarship defensive linemen.
The game will be declared a no contest.
“I’m so disappointed for everyone involved here,” UW athletic director Jen Cohen said in a statement. “Every year our student-athletes, coaches, staff and Husky Nation circle this game on our calendar and so look forward to this amazing rivalry.
“The student-athletes from both schools have worked so hard, and I’m just really disheartened we are this point where we are unable to play due to our COVID-19 positives within the program, but we will always put the health and well-being of our students, coaches and staff as our greatest priority when making decisions. We will continue to work in collaboration with our medical professionals as they advise us on how to best move forward.”
This is the third game the Huskies’ have had canceled this season, but the first due to issues in their program. UW paused all team-related football activities on Wednesday.
“We are disappointed for our players and fans and for our opponent that our game will not be played this weekend,” Lake said in a statement. “We are doing everything we can to resume football activities as soon as we can safely do so.”
After UW’s loss to Stanford last week, redshirt junior wide receiver Ty Jones admitted to COVID-19 issues in the program, saying “it’s tough when we got guys coming out due to coronavirus.”
Several players missed last week’s game and weren’t visible on the sideline. Huskies head coach Jimmy Lake has consistently refused to comment on player injuries or illness, but he opened up about UW’s COVID-19 issues during his radio show Wednesday evening on KJR.
“I really can’t (explain why there have been positive tests) and that’s what really baffling our medical professionals here in the building,” Lake said. “I think that’s one reason why we still were able to get our game off last week and the week before, because the positive tests were just so random. It would be one thing if it was just one position group and it was just spreading like wildfire. Well, then you know where there was a couple guys that weren’t doing it the right way. But through their investigation and their contact tracing, it has not happened that way. It’s really baffling all of us how it’s happening and how these select people are getting it.
“I’ll say this; the really good news on all this is our guys have had hardly any symptoms whatsoever. They’ve been almost 100% asymptomatic. And really, throughout this whole your staff and our players, nobody has become seriously ill because of this disease.”
The UW athletics department released a COVID-19 testing update on Wednesday night. There are currently 11 positive active cases, up from five last week. UW has administered 5,950 tests with 64 total positive cases since June 15.
The game cancellation means UW wins the Pac-12 North Division by default because it has the highest winning percentage (.750) in the division. But, as Lake noted on his radio show, if the Huskies couldn’t play Oregon their status for a title game would also be in doubt.
While the Center for Disease Control and Prevention could reportedly issue new guidelines for reducing the number of days close contacts should quarantine from 14 days to 7-10 days, the CDC website still recommends a 14-day quarantine for close contacts. The 14-day guideline wouldn’t allow players who entered quarantine this week to return in time unless the championship was pushed back.
And UW might not qualify for the title game at all. Conference policy states that “if the average number of conference games falls to 4 or below, the two teams with the best winning percentage (both divisional and cross-divisional) within the conference will participate in the Pac- 12 Football Championship Game (regardless of division affiliation).” A net-loss of three games would initiate the exception, according to Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News.
This is the first time UW had to cancel a game or pause football activities due to COVID-19 protocols. As the Huskies prepared to start fall camp at the end of September, Lake said the Huskies had to “protect the team by not bringing the virus into this building” if they wanted to reach their goals.
“We have to protect the team by not getting the virus outside of the building and and spreading it to your roommates,” Lake said then. “We have to insulate ourselves and create our own bubble if you’re in the University of Washington football program. Like I said earlier, the team that does that the best in the Pac-12 is most likely going to be holding up that trophy.
“It’s just more about reminding the players what’s at stake. It’s more peer pressure, more us talking about it all the time and just re-enforcing the idea of having your mask on … social distance, washing your hands and following all the social guidelines that medical professionals have been telling us about.”