Maryland football will be out of action for the second consecutive weekend, as the program announced the cancellation of its home game against Michigan State, scheduled for Nov. 21.
The school revealed Nov. 19 that 15 student-athletes and seven staff members, including head coach Michael Locksley, have tested positive for the virus since Nov. 11, when the Terps canceled their game against Ohio State. In addition to eight positive tests among players announced last week, Maryland’s total is now up to 23 players and seven staffers testing positive (although not all of those cases are active).
“I am gutted for our team and for our fans,” Locksley said in a statement. “This team is eager to play and compete and continue the growth we’ve seen this season. This virus is testing our players and coaches right now, but I have no doubt that we will emerge as a stronger unit for having gone through this together. As for me personally, I am feeling strong, with only minor symptoms. I will continue to lead this program virtually and our game preparations for Indiana will begin immediately.”
Maryland was 2-1 before being forced to cancel each of its last two contests. The Terps opened the season in miserable fashion with a 43-3 loss to Northwestern, but rebounded with a 45-44 overtime win against Minnesota before thrashing Penn State, 35-19. If Maryland can play its remaining games, it will close the regular season with Indiana and Michigan on the road followed by Rutgers at home.
As COVID-19 cases continue to spike across the country, college football has been rocked with increased severity. The last three weeks have featured 10, 15 and 12 FBS games either postponed or canceled — this week’s slate now includes seven postponements and five cancellations. As of now, the other six Big Ten contests are still on for this weekend, but Maryland will be sidelined once again.
“These guys have really made a ton of sacrifices from March on,” Locksley said at a virtual press conference Nov. 19. “Our players and staff have really made some great sacrifices in an effort to try to play, and to not have that opportunity is probably the biggest disappointment for me.”
How it happened
Dr. Yvette Brooks, assistant director of the University Health Center, said bluntly at the Nov. 19 presser that three sources had led to all cases within the program. She did not disclose any identities or specify whether the sources were players, staffers or outsiders. It also remains unclear what behaviors may have sparked the outbreak.
Members of Maryland’s program quarantined in individual rooms at The Hotel across the street from campus Nov. 11-15. When players returned to their living quarters Nov. 15, the total number of positives had gone down, Rooks said. Daily antigen and PCR testing continued throughout this week, and Rooks said the school noticed an uptick “early this week.”
Locksley said he first experienced mild cold-like symptoms Nov. 16, then reached out and took a test that night which came back positive. He has been isolating at home this week.
“[I was] obviously surprised, but when you have the type of spread that we’ve had within our team, you come into contact with so many different players as the head coach,” Locksley said. “Surprised because I tried to practice good safety measures — wearing a mask, social distancing and those things — but as we’ve found, every week we’ve got two opponents: COVID and whoever we’re preparing to play. We’ll continue to just try to fight this thing and move forward as best we can.”
Maryland’s goal remains to return to the field and finish the season, preferably without canceling any further games. For now, school officials are still optimistic that can happen soon. “I look at having our young men, potentially if things stay the same, doing some kind of fitness or exercise training over the weekend if possible,” Rooks said.
Locksley, Rooks and athletic director Damon Evans all stressed that this is a “day-to-day” process, as data shifts with every round of tests. The focus now turns to the Indiana game scheduled for Nov. 28, and how far in advance of that contest Maryland can return to the field. Locksley said that at a minimum, he believes the team would need two practice days ahead of a game to be prepared to play. That would make the target date Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 26.
There’s also the question of which players will be available. Under Big Ten protocols, players who test positive are sidelined for 21 days, enough time to quarantine, undergo required tests and transition back to the field. The distribution of Maryland’s 23 positives among players is unknown, both in terms of position groups and impact players.
No matter what happens if and when Maryland returns to the field, this 2020 season will be remembered most for the uncertainty brought about by COVID-19. That’s true for the rest of the country, too. But the Terps remain determined to get back and put the focus back in between the lines.
“Our goal is to get back … but we want to get back in the safest possible manner, and make sure we’re looking out for the health, the safety and the wellness of the student-athletes,” Evans said. “We’re committed to getting back, we’re committed to doing things to get everything under control so our student-athletes in the sport of football can get back to doing what they love to do, and that’s playing this game.”
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics