By STEVE MEGARGEE
The Associated Press
Wisconsin has canceled Saturday’s home game against Purdue, the second straight game the 10th-ranked Badgers have called off as COVID-19 cases within their team continue to rise.
School officials announced Tuesday that three more players and two additional staffers have tested positive since Saturday, bringing the program’s total number of active cases to 27. That includes 15 players and 12 staffers.
All team-related activities for Wisconsin remain paused indefinitely.
“I’m concerned with the health and safety of the guys,” athletic director Barry Alvarez said. “No one wants to be on that field any more than I do. But I’m not going to lose track of priorities.”
This marks the second consecutive week that Wisconsin has canceled a game due to the virus outbreak. The Badgers had been scheduled to visit Nebraska on Oct. 31. Neither game will be rescheduled.
“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,” Purdue athletic director Mike Bobinski said in a statement. “The health, well-being and safety of all student-athletes, coaches and staff remains the top priority for the entire Big Ten and will continue to guide decision-making.”
The Purdue-Wisconsin matchup becomes the 38th game involving a Football Bowl Subdivision team to get postponed or canceled as a result of the pandemic.
Wisconsin’s 27 active cases all have arisen since Oct. 24, the day after Wisconsin’s season-opening 45-7 victory over Illinois. Ten players and 11 staffers have tested positive over the last seven days.
“It just didn’t feel as though we had our arms around it and had things controlled as I thought we needed,” Alvarez said.
When Wisconsin canceled the Nebraska game last week, Alvarez said the school had reached the “orange/red” levels in the Big Ten protocols based on its rate of positive tests.
The Big Ten says teams in that area must proceed with caution; among the steps is considering the viability of playing.
Alvarez said Tuesday that Wisconsin still hasn’t reached the “red/red” threshold that forces a team to stop practices and competition for at least seven days. But he noted that “we’ve continued to have positive tests daily.”
The announcement of the Wisconsin-Nebraska cancellation followed reports that quarterback Graham Mertz had tested positive twice — which would require him to sit out at least 21 days under Big Ten protocols — and that backup quarterback Chase Wolf had tested positive at least once.
The Big Ten’s schedule doesn’t give teams any off weeks, making it extremely difficult to reschedule canceled games.
The second cancellation gives Wisconsin little room for error in its quest to reach a second straight conference championship game.
The Big Ten requires teams to play at least six games to be eligible for the league championship game. If the average number of conference games played by all Big Ten teams is below six, programs must play no less than two fewer league games than that average to be considered.
Wisconsin (1-0) has five games remaining on its schedule before the league holds its champions week on Dec. 19. The Badgers’ next scheduled game is Nov. 14 at No. 23 Michigan (1-1).
“We don’t leave ourselves much wiggle room right now, and we know that,” Alvarez said. “But hopefully we can get this corralled and get back on the field and playing.”
The state of Wisconsin continues to have a rise in COVID-19 cases. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services reported a record 1,648 hospitalizations related to the virus on Monday. The seven-day average for new cases was 4,463, almost twice as high as a month ago.