On Monday, when Washington withdrew from this week’s Pac-12 championship game against USC, Husky head coach Jimmy Lake said he was “very, very confident” his team could continue its season with a bowl game.
Four days later, that season is officially over.
The program announced in a release Friday that it has elected not to pursue a bowl bid due to medical reasons. On Wednesday, UW reported 25 active positive cases of COVID-19 in its athletic department — 14 more than the week before. It’s university policy not to divulge how many cases are tied to each program.
Between June 15 — when UW athletes began returning to campus — and Dec. 16, 560 athletes have received 6,360 PCR tests with 79 total positive cases (1.24%).
The Pac-12 requires 53 available scholarship players — including one quarterback, seven offensive linemen and four defensive linemen — to qualify for competition. Due to a combination of positive cases and contact tracing, Washington fell short of the 53-player minimum this week and had zero offensive linemen available to play.
“Our offensive line is completely gone,” Lake confirmed Monday. “We cannot play. We cannot practice.”
The Huskies haven’t practiced since Dec. 9 — when they paused all team-related activities due to a spike in positive COVID-19 cases and subsequent tracing. That surge forced Lake’s team to cancel last weekend’s rivalry game at Oregon and, after being officially declared North Division champions, withdraw from Friday’s Pac-12 title game.
Now, on the same day USC and Oregon met for Pac-12 supremacy in Los Angeles, UW’s season ended with a tweet and a trio of prepared statements.
“I’m truly disappointed for our players, coaches and staff who dedicated themselves to this very challenging season and were looking forward to representing the University of Washington, all of Husky Nation and the Pac-12 Conference in a bowl game,” UW athletics director Jen Cohen said in the release. “The last 10 days we have made every effort, including pausing all football-related activities and continued aggressive testing protocols, to be able to have our team ready to return to the field.
“However, with the number of positive cases, specifically at the offensive line position, we will not have a team ready for competition due to our comprehensive return to play medical protocols. Since the start of practices this fall, we committed to returning to play only when we were able to do so in a healthy manner, and unfortunately, we aren’t at that point at this time.”
According to a source, the decision to pass on postseason play was more tied to the timeline in returning to conditioning and practice than further positive COVID-19 tests within the program.
“As we shared earlier in the week, we have taken proactive measures to contain the further spread of COVID-19 in our football program,” UW football team physician Dr. Kim Harmon said in a statement. “After continuing our pause on all football-related activities, we are confident we have been able to do that this week.
“With that said, we have experienced a number of positive cases within a key position group. Due to our thorough return to play policy, we would have not been able to have a team that was ready to return to practice and safely prepare for and compete in a bowl game. Despite the aggressive protocols we created and implemented at the onset of the season, and have strictly adhered to throughout the year, we still found ourselves in this position due to the power of this virus.”
Washington’s season ends at 3-1, with four regular-season games its fewest since 1944 and four total games its fewest since 1918. Two additional games, at Cal and Washington State, were canceled due to COVID-19 issues tied to its opponents. After the Apple Cup was canceled, UW hosted Utah in a replacement game on Nov. 28 — overcoming a 21-0 halftime deficit to deliver a dramatic 24-21 win.
According to UW associate athletic director for health and wellness Rob Scheidegger, “We saw our first (positive COVID-19) cases way back the Friday before the game we played against Utah.”
Washington’s football season has effectively been waylaid in the three weeks since.
“I’m so grateful for Coach Lake’s leadership, and am proud of the young men in our football program for managing the adversity of this season with grit and class,” Cohen said in the statement. “Our decision also allows our players, who have given up so much this year, to go home and be reunited with their families during the holidays.
“We also understand this is incredibly difficult for our seniors who have made a remarkable impact on this campus and in our community during their time on Montlake. We would like to thank them for their contributions and leadership, and for being great Huskies.”
Of course, UW is not alone in this decision. Fellow Pac-12 programs Stanford, Washington State, UCLA and Utah have voluntarily removed their names from bowl consideration as well.
“Our goal every season is to win the Pac-12 Championship and win the bowl game,” Lake said in a statement. “I’m so proud of our guys for how hard they have worked to put us in a position to achieve those goals. Unfortunately, due to the positive cases we have seen, specifically on our offensive line, we would have not been able to have a team ready to compete at a high level in a bowl game due to our return to play protocols. This is disappointing for everyone within our program and all of Husky Nation, but this is the right decision to make to protect the health and safety of our players, which is always our greatest priority.
“Our guys have given up so much this season, and I would like to thank them for how they have handled everything. I would also like to give special recognition to our seniors who poured so much into this program, we are so proud of them for everything they have accomplished on and off the field.”