College football on Wednesday got a sobering glimpse of what could become routine this season: a game rescheduled because of coronavirus cases inside an athletic program.
North Carolina State and Virginia Tech, who were to play an Atlantic Coast Conference game on Sept. 12, said Wednesday that the matchup had been delayed by two weeks, until Sept. 26, because of a cluster of virus cases within N.C. State’s athletic department.
“There’s no blueprint for what we’re all trying to navigate and we are grateful for everyone’s collaboration to make this work,” Boo Corrigan, N.C. State’s athletic director, said in a statement.
The rescheduling decision was a bleak and unsurprising reminder of the season’s perils, and similar moves could become common in the weeks ahead. College football’s leaders have cautioned for months that, if games were to be played at all, disruptions were virtual certainties.
Plans for N.C. State’s football program had come under particular scrutiny in recent days. Last week, the university, which is in Raleigh, said it would move all of its undergraduate courses for this semester online. Then on Monday, N.C. State paused its sports programs because of 27 virus cases that were associated with the athletic department.
Other universities had announced similar suspensions of athletic activities after clusters emerged this year. But the decision at N.C. State, made less than three weeks before what was to be the start of the Wolfpack’s season, immediately prompted questions about whether the team would be ready to compete at Virginia Tech, and whether players would be at greater risk for injury because of the halt to preseason workouts.
Dave Doeren, N.C. State’s coach, hinted at those worries in a statement on Wednesday, when he said postponement of the Virginia Tech game offered “our team and staff the time needed to prepare and reacclimate after pausing our practices.”
In a statement, Virginia Tech called the postponement a “mutual decision.”
The announcement of the game’s delay came on the same day that N.C. State’s chancellor, Randy Woodson, said the university would largely close campus housing by early September because “the rapid spread and increasing rate of positive cases have made our current situation untenable.”
The troubles at N.C. State are familiar to officials at other universities, including some that faced rapid increases in cases after students returned for the fall semester. Administrators have warned that they may again close campuses, decisions that would assuredly complicate prospects for football seasons in the six Football Bowl Subdivision conferences that still intend to compete in 2020.
League officials designed schedules for this season knowing that games might need to be moved. In the A.C.C., teams hope to play 11-game seasons, with school scheduled for 10 conference matchups and a game against a nonconference opponent. The A.C.C. calendar also gave each team two open dates.
Miami plans to be the first A.C.C. team to play this year and is scheduled to host Alabama-Birmingham on Sept. 10. U.A.B., a member of Conference USA, is to begin its season next Thursday with a home game against Central Arkansas.
Another Conference USA member, Southern Mississippi, has planned a game for the same day against South Alabama, a part of the Sun Belt Conference.
Some leagues have already abandoned their hopes of playing this fall. The Big Ten and the Pac-12, for instance, said this month that their football teams would not compete until at least 2021.