COVID-19 knocks out Virginia-Virginia Tech football opener

Sports

(WRIC/AP) — The pandemic disrupted college sports again Saturday, with Virginia and Virginia Tech postponing their Sept. 19 football opener because of COVID-19 issues at Virginia Tech.

Virginia Tech Athletic Director Whit Babcock said the university is not releasing the specific number of positive player tests or number of players in isolation due to the school’s interpretation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA. “I will just say it was a significant number where your chief medical officer says it is not safe to play,” Babcock said in a virtual news conference Saturday.

The schools said this was a mutual agreement. No makeup date was announced for the game that had been set for Virginia Tech’s Lane Stadium. Virginia Tech also will not hold football practice for four days so the team can do another two or three rounds of COVID-19 testing, according to Babcock.

The postponement is the second for the Hokies since the Atlantic Coast Conference released a revised schedule. Their original opening game, slated for Sept. 12 against North Carolina State, was pushed back two weeks after a COVID-19 outbreak at N.C. State. “We understand to the best of our ability what it feels to be UVA. We could’ve played last week and N.C. State could not, and this week, it’s reversed roles,” said Babcock.

Virginia is now scheduled to open its season on Oct. 3 at No. 1 Clemson.

On its web page, Virginia Tech reported Friday it has had 219 positive tests for the coronavirus in the previous seven days, putting its total infections at 633 since testing began Aug. 3. The numbers have risen steadily since students returned Aug. 24.

Virginia Tech said more than 40 students have been suspended from the school on an interim basis for not following public health rules.

The school has not been releasing athlete-specific results.

The University of Virginia released its latest numbers for athletes and athletic staff on Saturday, saying it has had five positive tests since the last update on Sept. 4. The school said four of the five positives were from students who recently returned to campus and that the football program has not had any positive results since the first report on July 24.

If the game would have gone on as scheduled Sept. 19, 1,000 fans would have been allowed inside Lane Stadium in Blacksburg. This would mostly allow for families of players and coaches to attend, according to Virginia Tech vice president of Emergency Management Mike Mulhare.

No tailgating would have been permitted. In addition, no outside tickets were to be sold, in hopes of keeping large out-of-town crowds away from Blacksburg, according to university leaders.

“The safety as well as the physical and mental well-being of these young men and women entrusted to our care by their families remains our top priority,” Babcock said in a statement.

“While we share the disappointment of everyone who hoped to begin the football season against our in-state rival, we remain optimistic that a full ACC football schedule can be played thanks to the flexibility the present format permits,” Babcock said.

On Twitter, some of Virginia’s coaches offered praise for their players.

“It is really this simple… you either are committed to your team or you are not,” offensive line coach Garett Tujague tweeted. “There are those that can sacrifice for each other and then there are those that CAN NOT. The greatest thing is… You get to make that choice.”

Running backs coach Mark Atuaia noted the “grave sacrifices” by his players.

“My heart goes out to them because no one is giving merit to the disciple my young brothers have displayed since the pandemic hit,” he tweeted. “My UVA young brothers are AMAZING!!!”

Conferences going ahead with a fall football season are requiring their schools to test athletes three times per week, and about a dozen games have already been postponed because of those results, which require quarantining for those infected and those identified through contract tracing to have come in contact with those who test positive.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says any person who spends at least 15 minutes within 6 feet of a person who is infected with COVID-19 is deemed a high-risk contact and requires a 14-day quarantine. High-risk contacts can also involve touching or being sneezed on or coughed upon by an infected person.

The NCAA adopted those standards in its return-to-play guidelines.

You can watch the full press conference here:

The Associated Press and 8News Reporter Laura Perrot contributed to this story.

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