The Pac-12 didn’t make it through the first weekend of the delayed season without COVID-19 wiping out a scheduled game.
Actually, COVID-19 itself didn’t force the Pac-12 to declare the Cal-Washington duel a no contest.
One Cal player has tested positive. One.
But the Bears were unable to play Saturday night in Berkeley because of what happened after the positive result — specifically, the contact tracing and quarantine process that swallowed an entire position group.
We can guess the reaction from Tucson to Pullman and Boulder to Palo Alto.
The conference is doomed, right?
The testing plan is all wrong, right?
The commissioner is at fault, right?
This isn’t on the conference, it’s not on Cal, and it absolutely doesn’t mean the rest of the Pac-12 season will be filled with cancellations and no contests.
The issue here is the definition of close contacts and application of contact tracing protocols, all of which is done at the state and local level.
The situation left coach Justin Wilcox’s “blood boiling” and deeply disappointed for the players on both teams.
“We respect the virus and the seriousness of it,” he said.
“(Players have) done a really good job of trying to do everything we’ve asked them to do, that the institution has asked them to do, and we thought that the state and (local) public health office was asking them to do.
“So when the game gets taken away from you, that can be an emotional moment.”
According to Wilcox, the Bears based their entire health and safety plan on the guidelines set by the state of California and City of Berkeley health officials.
They even “did more” than was required, Wilcox explained on a Zoom call with reporters.
Then the Pac-12’s daily antigen testing plan did exactly what it was designed to do: It caught an asymptomatic case.
A follow-up PCR test confirmed the positive.
The result was reported to Berkeley health … and then it all unraveled.
Despite Cal’s meticulous plan for mitigation — a plan based on the directives from state and local health officials — the contact tracing protocols resulted in an entire position group being placed under 14-day quarantine.
“It’s ridiculous,” a conference source said.
“They did everything possible protocol-wise to avoid this exact situation (having a position group quarantined) and then were told what they did was not enough. And then they weren’t even told why.”
Wilcox declined to identify the infected player or the impacted position group but was clear that it’s one you cannot play without.
(Multiple conference sources said it was the defensive line.)
The quarantined players have tested negative since their last contact with the infected teammate, Wilcox said. But health officials nonetheless ordered them to remain separated for 14 days.
“Testing is not a treatment. Testing is not a vaccine,” said Matthai Chakko, director of communications for the City of Berkeley.
“It tells you the amount of virus in the body and whether somebody has the disease.”
The game wasn’t moved to Seattle because the quarantined players cannot travel.
It wasn’t rescheduled because the conference is without a weekend for makeups.
(The only option would be Dec. 19, the day that tentatively has been reserved for cross-division games.)
Wilcox expressed frustration with the disparities in contact tracing protocols across major college football, but that disparity is also true in the Pac-12. Every municipality is different.
That’s why the derailment of Cal-Washington doesn’t portend doom for the conference.
But make no mistake: The quarantine posed problems for the Bears next week, too
They’re scheduled to visit Arizona State, but unless the players are released from quarantine, that game is in jeopardy.
Even though there is only one positive case.
Even though the close contacts have tested negative.
Yes, it’s bananas.
Yes, it’s deeply unfortunate for the players on both teams.
But no, it’s not a sign of doom for the conference.