Fans eagerly awaiting the return of Badger football were met with disappointing news on Tuesday, as Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez announced the upcoming football game against Purdue had been cancelled due to complications surrounding the team’s COVID-19 outbreak. Wisconsin currently has 27 active COVID-19 cases within its football program, 15 of whom are players.
“I share in the disappointment of our student-athletes and staff,” Alvarez told the media. “We have seen a level of improvement in our testing numbers, but not enough to give us confidence to resume to normal activities and play our game Saturday.”
Wisconsin’s COVID-19 outbreak began on Wednesday, Oct. 21, when one program member tested positive. No other positives came in until Saturday, the day after Wisconsin played Illinois. Quarterbacks Graham Mertz and Chase Wolf both tested positive, although the identities of the 10 other players who tested positive are unknown.
Wisconsin’s game against Nebraska was cancelled last Wednesday, and the Badgers halted all team activities and had players self-isolate in hotel rooms. That hasn’t stopped the spread of the virus, however. Three more players tested positive over the weekend, making the COVID situation untenable for the program and the Purdue game too big of a risk for players, staff, and members of the community.
The Badgers cancellation was voluntary, meaning they haven’t hit the threshold for mandatory cancellation as of this article. Those thresholds include a team positivity rate of over 5 percent and an overall population positivity rate of over 7.5 percent. Wisconsin has passed the 7.5 percent for the latter metric, but hasn’t reached 5 percent for the former.
Every player who tests positive is withheld from competition for 21 days. Wisconsin’s next scheduled game, at Michigan, is exactly 21 days after the team’s first batch of positive tests, meaning those who tested positive, including Mertz, would be eligible to play.
Wisconsin can still qualify for the Big Ten championship if they play six games. With the cancellation of the Purdue game, that leaves them with zero room for further cancellation. The winner of the Big Ten West will be determined not by most wins but by highest win percentage, meaning the Badgers could potentially win the division at 6-0.
Alvarez is still optimistic about the testing protocol despite the Badgers struggle thus far.
“I trust the protocol,” Alvarez said. “We’re using PCR and antigen testing. We want to be thorough. I know there are different levels of severity and different levels that both tests pick up. I’m not a doctor. I’m not going to try to break it down, but I do trust the protocol.”
The Badgers must hope that the protocol helps Wisconsin turn around their COVID struggles and soon. The Nov. 14 matchup against Michigan, a primetime clash, has been much anticipated for months and could put the Badgers back in the college football playoff conversation. That goal remains a dream, however, until the Badgers actually step foot on the field.