Arizona-Utah canceled, Pac-12 down to 4 games to open season

Sports
Kyle Whittingham

FILE – In this Dec. 31, 2019, file photo, Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham walks the sideline during the first half of the Alamo Bowl NCAA college football game against Texas in San Antonio. Whittingham was not all that surprised when his team was picked to finish third in the south division during the preseason Pac-12 media poll. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

The Pac-12 football season is getting off to a shaky start.

The opener between Utah and Arizona on Saturday in Salt Lake City was canceled due to a rise in positive COVID-19 cases within the Utes program.

Utah athletic director Mark Harlan said a number of positive coronavirus tests Friday morning put Utah below the Pac-12’s minimum threshold of 53 available scholarship players under the conference’s game cancelation policy. The Pac-12 approved the request on Friday.

“The cancellation of the our football game is a very difficult outcome to accept, but it absolutely is the right decision under the circumstances,” Harlan said in a statement. “While I am heartbroken for our student-athletes and everyone associated with Utah Athletics, as well as our great fans, our No. 1 guiding principle is the health and safety of our student-athletes.”

The cancellation is the second in two days for the Pac-12, which is set to kick off its seven-game season this weekend after spending the past several weeks watching as other conferences began playing. The game between Washington California was canceled Thursday.

Games between Arizona State and No. 20 Southern California, UCLA and Colorado, Washington State and Oregon State, along with Stanford at No. 12 Oregon are still scheduled to be played Saturday.

“The cancellation of this game, following yesterday’s cancellation of the Washington at Cal football game, is of course incredibly disappointing to our student-athletes and our fans,” the Pac-12 said in a statement. “At the same time it is an indication that our health and safety protocols are working in identifying positive cases and contact tracing cases.

“While all of us want to see our football student-athletes on the field competing, our number one priority must continue to be the health and safety of all those connected to Pac-12 football programs.”

In all, 10 Bowl Subdivision games this week were either canceled or postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic, bringing the total to 47 since Aug. 26.

Two Conference USA games scheduled for this weekend, Charlotte’s game at Middle Tennessee and UTSA’s visit to Rice, were postponed earlier Friday due to positive tests and contact tracing protocols.

Utah will, barring more positive tests, now open its season Nov. 13 at UCLA.

Arizona’s new season opener will be Nov. 14 against USC.

“Our football program and athletics department have worked incredibly hard in preparation to take the field on Saturday,” Arizona AD Dave Heeke said in a statement. I could not be more disappointed that our players, coaches and staff will be unable to experience game day, which they have prepared months for. With that said, health and safety must continue to be our guiding principles throughout these uncertain times.”

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