UCLA to play California on Sunday after Utah game is canceled
It was a comeback before kickoff, a massive rally staged before the clock could budge.
A UCLA football schedule that appeared to have fallen into disarray was reassembled in speedy fashion on an unprecedented Friday afternoon, a new opponent and a new date secured in a matter of hours.
Bruins athletic director Martin Jarmond foreshadowed the salvation with a two-word tweet, writing “Stay ready …” It was followed by a bear emoji and blue and gold hearts.
UCLA revealed only minutes later that it would play its home opener against California on Sunday at 9 a.m. at the Rose Bowl after the Bruins’ scheduled game against Utah on Saturday was called off because of another positive COVID-19 test involving the Utes.
“It’s an unconventional solution in an unconventional year,” Jarmond said in a statement, “and we’re excited to host the Bears at the Rose Bowl on Sunday.”
The replacement game became necessary after Utah’s roster continued to be ravaged by the novel coronavirus, leading to the cancellation of a second consecutive game involving the Utes.
This season’s Pac-12 basketball will offer new scenarios and challenges due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The Pac-12 declared the game between UCLA and Utah a no-contest and said in a statement that the Utes did not have the minimum number of players available as a result of positive tests and the resulting isolation of other players per contact tracing protocols.
Utah athletic director Mark Harlan told ESPN radio in Salt Lake City that the team had 17 positive cases overall and 11 additional players in quarantine, though those absences would seem to leave the Utes above the minimum threshold of 53 scholarship players needed for a game.
“We have been on the edge all week and with a positive test today, we can’t move forward,” Harlan said in a tweet. “Devastated for our team, our fans and this whole state.”
Cal was also in search of a makeup game after having a game called off for a second consecutive week despite only one positive test on its roster. The Golden Bears’ opener had been wiped out by strict contact tracing protocols ordered by local health officials and their game Saturday against Arizona State was declared a no-contest because of positives involving the Sun Devils, including coach Herm Edwards.
It’s expected that Cal will have several players exit quarantine before kickoff against the Bruins, making the game possible.
The Pac-12 now has canceled four games, matching the number it has played and illuminating the challenges of starting a season as viral case counts soar across the country.
Utes coach Kyle Whittingham said on Monday that the virus had decimated two position groups, adding that scout-teamers were moving up to the first team and walk-ons were preparing to play. The game against UCLA, originally scheduled for Friday, was pushed back one day to bolster its chances of taking place.
Utah left guard Nick Ford tweeted Friday that Los Angeles County officials were not allowing him to play after being exposed to COVID-19 even though he had received “20-plus negative tests” over eight days. A city of Pasadena spokesperson said the city’s protocols would not prevent the game from proceeding but required a 14-day quarantine for anyone who had been in close contact of someone who tested positive.
“Disappointment and frustration are both understatements for the way I feel,” Ford wrote. “When it’s finally my time to step back on the field … feel bad for whoever I’m going against.”
As Larry Scott approaches the end of his contract, some see the Pac-12 commissioner as a leader who has struggled to build meaningful relationships.
UCLA (0-1) completed its opener against Colorado after one player tested positive in the week before the game. The Bruins were spared the fate of other teams who have had to cancel games because they did not have to quarantine a wide swath of players, though the player who tested positive remained out this weekend, coach Chip Kelly said.
Daily testing that was supposed to save the Pac-12 season has instead imperiled it. Conference officials acknowledged a testing error had led to multiple Stanford players being held out of a game against Oregon last weekend even though subsequent testing showed that the one player suspected to have the virus was actually negative.
“We apologize to the Stanford football team and its supporters, and especially to the student-athletes who were held out of the game as a result of the testing protocol errors,” the Pac-12 said in a statement that served as little consolation after the Cardinal’s 35-14 loss to the Ducks. “We are working with our game day testing partner to ensure this type of error does not occur in the future.”
UCLA juggling its schedule within a season is rare but not unprecedented. A game on the road against Miami in 1998 was rescheduled for later in the season because of Hurricane Georges. A game against Arizona State in 2001 was postponed until the end of the season after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.
As part of the 2020 schedule changes, UCLA’s road game against Oregon that was originally scheduled for Nov. 20 will be moved back one day, at a time to be announced.
Several UCLA players said earlier this week that the team had completed energetic practices while operating under the assumption that the Bruins would play the Utes.
“In terms of the game, that’s something that we don’t have any control over,” tight end Mike Martinez said. “So all we can control is focusing on our fundamentals and our effort every day in practice. So as a team, I think that’s just our focus every day. And then we just let the rest happen.”
The rest happened, resulting in a mad dash for the Bruins to salvage their seven-game, conference-only schedule. UCLA’s streak of playing Cal in a series that started in 1933 will remain uninterrupted.
Meanwhile, Utah will hope to open its season against USC on Nov. 21 in Salt Lake City after twice being rebuffed in its efforts to play.
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