California’s game against Southern California was postponed on Tuesday after a series of positive coronavirus tests in the Golden Bears program, the first major college football game to be rescheduled this season due to COVID-19.
Cal played in Arizona last week without quarterback Chase Garbers and six other starters due to positive tests that eliminated 24 players and assistant coaches. The Bears lost 10-3 to Arizona.
Cal announced Tuesday that a few more players have tested positive this week, leaving Cal with not enough players in an unidentified position group, resulting in the postponement.
“It left us with an inability to compete safely,” said athletic director Jim Knowlton, which led to what he called the “difficult decision” to move the game.
Coach Justin Wilcox said he was upset for fans and players, but added there was no choice.
“Postponing this game was a last resort and neither of us wanted to take it; However, it was not possible for us to field a team on Saturday, ”said Wilcox.
The game could have been forfeited under Pac-12 rules, but Cal and USC reached an agreement to move the game to December 4, the day after the Pac-12 championship game.
“We’re thrilled that USC and Cal can agree that we still want to play this game,” Knowlton said. “We want to do it for our student-athletes. It’s really important because it’s our last home game and it gives us a chance to celebrate our seniors.
Knowlton said he expects Cal to return to training next week and play the Big Game against rival Stanford as scheduled on November 20.
Cal’s ordeal began last week when a symptomatic player tested positive for COVID-19. Cal hadn’t regularly tested asymptomatic players throughout the season, but started testing close contacts and ultimately the whole squad, which led to the two dozen positive tests.
Garbers criticized the school and City of Berkeley officials in a Twitter post Monday evening, saying they had not been transparent about whether COVID-19 testing for vaccinated players was recommended or mandatory.
“We worked too hard for someone to take all of this away from us. This is wrong, ”Garbers wrote. “We deserve answers and transparent communication.
Knowlton said it was ultimately his call based on recommendations from city health officials to require asymptomatic players to test or otherwise be banned from gambling.
“It couldn’t be more confusing during those times when you’re trying to figure out how to do the right thing and what is the right thing,” Knowlton said. “I applaud our student-athletes for making their voices heard and wanting to know what’s going on. The bottom line for us is that (Berkeley health officials) gave us recommendations and we implemented those recommendations to keep our kids safe. ”
Cal said 99% of his players are vaccinated, but several have tested positive anyway and are required by the city to self-isolate for 10 days, regardless of their vaccination status. Knowlton said he asked if it was possible to test this isolation like some pro teams have done, but was told it wasn’t allowed.
Knowlton acknowledged that Cal could operate under stricter protocols than other schools because of advice from Berkeley health officials, but did not question their advice.
“I don’t think there’s anyone who wouldn’t agree that maybe California has been more conservative and this region has been more conservative,” Knowlton said. “But it would be difficult to dispute the results. … But again, it’s beyond me. I am just here to execute and support the advice we receive.
USC interim coach Donte Williams said his team were made aware of the postponement ahead of practice on Tuesday. Since the Trojans don’t have to prepare for the Bears, they cut their practice session short on Tuesday and will spend the rest of the week preparing for their rivalry game against UCLA next Saturday.
At 4-5 overall, 3-4 in the Pac-12 game, USC must win two of its last three games to become eligible in bowling. Williams said there was no point in asking for a forfeit by Cal, which would have left USC only needing a home win over the Bruins or No.14 BYU on Nov. 27 for reach the playoffs.
“We want to play the game, and a forfeit isn’t the way to go, and that’s not the way you want to qualify for a bowl game,” said Williams. “Our whole thing is to fight and compete, okay that’s our biggest thing is to compete and I’m pretty sure they want to compete with us, so we’re looking forward to this opportunity. ”
AP freelance writer Dan Greenspan in Los Angeles contributed to this report
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