For the second consecutive week, the University of Wisconsin canceled a football game because of a coronavirus outbreak in the program.
Wisconsin, ranked No. 10 in The Associated Press poll, said on Tuesday that it would not host Purdue on Saturday. Wisconsin reported on Tuesday that at least 15 players and 12 staff members, including Coach Paul Chryst, had tested positive since Oct. 24.
“I share in the disappointment of our student-athletes and staff,” Barry Alvarez, Wisconsin’s athletic director, said in a statement. “We have seen a level of improvement in our testing numbers, but not enough to give us confidence to resume normal activities and play our game on Saturday.”
Alvarez later told reporters in a video conference call that he had never reached the point of being confident. “I was hopeful,” he said. “I thought we were doing the right things.”
The team has been having Zoom meetings in lieu of in-person practice and has been keeping players who tested positive isolated, Alvarez said. Wisconsin teams in other sports have had some smaller virus outbreaks, but those are more under control, he said, adding that those teams do not include basketball and hockey, which are scheduled to start playing games soon.
The infections on and around the football team have played out while the state as a whole has confronted some of its most wrenching weeks of the pandemic. Statewide, about 245,000 people have tested positive for the virus; more than 2,100 have died, many of them in October, according to a New York Times database.
Wisconsin, which last week canceled a game at Nebraska, will have played no more than six regular-season games by the time the Big Ten Conference’s championship matchup is set. Under the league’s rules, if Wisconsin, the only ranked team in the conference’s West Division, misses one more game, it will not be eligible to play for the conference championship. (The threshold, though, could change if more of the league’s games are canceled this season.)
Both of Wisconsin’s canceled games will be classified “no contest.”
The Badgers won their first game of the season, at home against Illinois, 45-7, on Oct. 23, but have not played a game since. Their next will be at Michigan, ranked No. 23, on Nov. 14, assuming the Badgers are cleared to take the field.
The Big Ten said in August that it would not play this fall, but it reversed that decision in September and began competition in October. The league’s revised plan called for its teams to play at least nine games, one of them something of an exhibition that would not affect the race to reach the league championship showdown.
“While we looked forward to our game this weekend against Wisconsin, we understand the Badgers’ decision to cancel based on medical advice and their need to control any additional transmission of the virus within their team and staff,” Mike Bobinski, Purdue’s athletic director, said in a statement on Tuesday.
More than three dozen top-tier college football games across conferences have been postponed or canceled for virus-related reasons since late August.