The University of Minnesota football team is pausing all team-related football activities in response to positive COVID-19 cases, the school said Tuesday.
Nine Minnesota student-athletes and six staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 over the past five days, according to the team. There were also additional presumptive positive tests on Tuesday, but the football program is awaiting confirmation of those results.
Minnesota was scheduled to play the Badgers in Madison on Saturday, but the game will not be played or rescheduled. The matchup will be ruled a no contest, according to Big Ten rules. Additionally, Wisconsin has now posted its third no contest, which eliminates the Badgers from Big Ten championship game contention.
After consulting with the Big Ten, Director of Athletics Mark Coyle, University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel and Minnesota Athletics’ Medical Director Dr. Brad Nelson made the decision to pause team-related football activities.
“The health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches and staff has always been our main priority,” Coyle said in a statement. “We have experienced an increase in positive cases recently and have made the responsible decision to pause team activities. We will continue to rely on the guidance of our medical experts as we navigate the next several days. We are doing everything we possibly can to miss the fewest amount of days possible. Our goal is to be healthy enough and ready to compete on December 5 against Northwestern.”
In addition to the Big Ten’s daily testing measures, the team will now conduct PCR testing twice a week for members of the football program. Dr. Nelson, the team’s medical director, believes this was the best move to slow the spread of COVID-19.
“This is the right decision,” Nelson said. “There was a sudden increase in positive cases and this pause will allow the team to focus on stopping the spread of the virus.”
Head coach P.J. Fleck stressed the importance of player safety in a team statement. He fully supports the decision to cancel Saturday’s game against Wisconsin.
“The health and safety of our student-athletes will always come first,” said head coach P.J. Fleck. “Like almost every program in the country, we have been affected on some level by COVID-19 every week this season, but these last few days have resulted in more cases than we have previously seen.”
While speaking with local media members Monday, Fleck discussed how fluid the COVID-19 situation is. He said a large group of medical professionals, conference officials and administrators are collaborating every day to make important decisions regarding the virus.
“I think everything that we do on a day-to-day basis has been up in the air since we started this whole thing. And you just take it one minute at a time, especially even with the injuries. Even with the COVID-19 cases with opt outs, with things like that, you take it one day at a time. With staff members, it’s one day at a time, and if you start to get ahead of that that’s where I think people really spiral out of control, because there’s so much out of our control,” Fleck said Monday. “And I think people need to understand there’s so many, that this isn’t me making the decisions of how many cases we have and cases we don’t have and when we should play and when we don’t play. There’s a series of protocols. There’s a medical team, a medical advisory, our administration, the Big Ten conference that make decisions so we don’t as coaches ever have to make those decisions.”
Based upon the Gophers’ statement, the game against Wisconsin won’t be played in any form. Some fans and analysts thought it may be possible for the Big Ten to tweak Champions Weekend on Dec. 19. However, Minnesota’s official statement indicates this won’t occur.