Navy has set the standard in college football for following coronavirus protocols and operating safely in an uncertain environment. The Midshipmen made it through seven games this season without any players testing positive for COVID-19.
That run of good fortune came to an end this week.
Saturday’s home game against Tulsa has been postponed by the American Athletic Conference due to an outbreak among Navy football players. According to multiple sources, the Midshipmen have minimal positive COVID-19 cases, but the subsequent contact tracing would have caused a significant number of players to miss Saturday’s contest.
The American Athletic Conference made the announcement after The Capital first reported the postponement of the game.
The AAC is hoping to reschedule the Tulsa at Navy game for sometime later this season. That could be difficult because the Midshipmen and Golden Hurricane do not have any mutual open dates at this time.
It’s unclear if this will have any impact on the Memphis game scheduled for Nov. 14. Athletic director Chet Gladchuk issued a statement Thursday morning announcing that Navy has paused all football activities.
“We are disappointed not to face Tulsa this weekend. However, protocols and guidelines are very comprehensive both at the Naval Academy and within the American Athletic Conference,” Gladchuk said. “There are a number of medical personnel that have reviewed all the related issues and, in the end, an administrative decision has been made that clearly reflects the safety and welfare of all involved with both institutions.”
Gladchuk confirmed there has been a general outbreak of COVID-19 positive cases within the Brigade of Midshipmen and members of various Navy varsity sports teams have been impacted. Both the Naval Academy and the Naval Academy Athletic Association had worked in unison to prevent such an occurrence and the comprehensive plan had worked well to date.
“I believed we were the model of proper protocols and safety in a COVID-less environment up until three days ago. Until this week, the whole thing was completely contained and we were unscathed," Gladchuk said.
Navy football had zero positive cases among its entire traveling party when it departed for Dallas Friday morning to play SMU Saturday night. Something happened between that time and Monday morning when players, coaches and support staff were tested again.
That round of testing turned up positives and multiple sources said as many as 20 Navy football players were put into quarantine within the isolation wing of Bancroft Hall. A significant number of starters and top reserves were among those designated for isolation, most due to contact tracing.
The Capital learned Saturday afternoon that a coronavirus outbreak had impacted the Navy varsity crew program. Large numbers of athletes from both the men’s and women’s rowing teams were put into quarantine due to positive tests or contact tracing.
A parent of a women’s crew athlete anonymously reported earlier this week that her daughter was in the isolation wing of Bancroft Hall and a large number of football players were as well.
Cmdr. Alana Garas, spokesperson for the Naval Academy said there are a small number of positive cases on the Yard amongst the Brigade of Midshipmen.
"Contact tracing was conducted and we are quarantining those identified midshipmen,” she said. “Safeguarding the health and safety of our midshipmen, faculty, staff and coaches, as well as our extended Naval Academy family and local community, remains the top priority during this pandemic. We will continue to implement mitigating measures to minimize the spread of COVID-19.”
Since starting training camp in July, Navy’s football team had not had any positive COVID-19 cases. One player sat out one game after it was determined he was in close contact to someone outside the football team who tested positive.
This marks the sixth Tulsa game impacted by the coronavirus with three being canceled and three being postponed. Nonconference contests with Northwestern State and Toledo were canceled before the season because those schools play in conferences that initially postponed football to the spring.
A matchup with Big 12 powerhouse Oklahoma State was pushed back a week because Tulsa had limited preseason practice time due to coronavirus issues. An AAC contest with Cincinnati was postponed from Oct. 17 to Dec. 5 because of positive cases within the Cincinnati program.
“We knew that this season would be different in the face of the pandemic, and unfortunately it has forced another weekend without football for our team,” Tulsa athletic director Rick Dickson said. “I’m disappointed for our football student-athletes and coaches who continue to work and practice diligently, but it reinforces the challenge facing all programs.”
Navy does not have an open date until Nov. 28, which is the date Tulsa plays at Houston. The Midshipmen are also off Dec. 5, but that is when the Golden Hurricane makeup with the Bearcats is being held.
Gladchuk said the AAC will attempt to shuffle the schedule to find a way for the Navy-Tulsa game to be played.
“It would require moving some other games around,” Gladchuk said. “There are conversations within the conference considering scenarios.”
Navy plays archrival Army Dec. 12 at Michie Stadium on the campus of West Point. Gladchuk made it clear that game would not be rescheduled and acknowledged Navy would prefer not to play the Tulsa makeup the previous Saturday.
“That open weekend prior to Army is critically important,” Gladchuk said. “That said, we belong to a conference and whatever decisions are made by the leadership will dictate what Navy football must do. We have an obligation to the American Athletic Conference."
The Air Force Academy announced Thursday afternoon that its game at Army Saturday has been canceled because of upward trends of COVID-19 cases at the academy in Colorado Springs. The schools will work to reschedule if possible.