For the second time in as many months, the Maryland football team canceled a home game against Big Ten foe Michigan State because of another coronavirus outbreak within the program.
The cancellation of Saturday’s game at 7:30 p.m. at Maryland Stadium in College Park mirrors a similar announcement on Nov. 19 when the Terps had to back out of a game scheduled for Nov. 21 against the Spartans due to an increase in the number of players and staff members who had tested positive for COVID-19.
On Thursday, the team announced 15 players and six staff members tested positive between Dec. 10-16. Further testing conducted Thursday morning revealed three more potential positives cases pending polymerase chain reaction tests. All infected individuals have been moved to designated isolation spaces, and all activities have been paused.
“This has been a season of promise and of adversity,” Terps coach Mike Locksley said in a statement. “Our team has demonstrated a tremendous work ethic, resolve and displayed Maryland pride throughout this unique season. We have battled two opponents each week, the team we matched up with on the field and COVID. Together, we experienced tremendous highs and we are deeply disappointed that we will not be able to test ourselves on the field against Michigan State.”
Sophomore punter Anthony Pecorella summed up his reaction with a broken heart emoji.
The plan to play Michigan State on Saturday had an ominous start when four starters — sophomore quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, junior inside linebacker Chance Campbell (Calvert Hall), freshman middle linebacker Ruben Hyppolite II and junior cornerback Jakorian Bennett — were suddenly scratched before last Saturday’s regular-season home finale against Rutgers due to “medical reasons,” according to a team spokesperson. Also, defensive coordinator Jon Hoke and special teams coordinator/linebackers coach George Helow were absent.
Although there was a report that Tagovailoa, Campbell and Bennett had tested positive for the coronavirus, Locksley did not confirm nor deny the report’s accuracy.
“I don’t comment on medical stuff,” Locksley said after the 27-24 overtime loss to the Scarlet Knights. “They were just unavailable players for us today.”
During his weekly media availability Tuesday, Locksley said he did not know the status of the four starters for the game against the Spartans. Players who test positive for COVID-19 must sit out 21 days, according to the Big Ten’s protocols.
“As of right now, I haven’t addressed or figured out where we are,” Locksley said at the time. “One or two of those guys may be available. As of today, I don’t have that information for you.”
This is the second such outbreak within the Terps program. Back on Nov. 11, the team suspended all activities and canceled a game against then-No. 3 Ohio State scheduled for Nov. 14 after eight players had tested positive for COVID-19 over the previous seven days.
Eight days later, the school canceled the game against Michigan State after 15 more players and seven staff members had tested positive. One of those staff members was Locksley, who self-reported himself after experiencing what he called “minor symptoms” on Nov. 17.
A game against Michigan scheduled for Dec. 5 was also canceled after the Wolverines halted their season, citing a rise in the number of coronavirus cases within the program. Maryland’s four cancellations this season are the most in the Big Ten, and the Terps will have played the fewest games of any team in the league.
Spartans coach Mel Tucker agreed with Maryland’s decision.
“While we were looking forward to finishing the regular season this Saturday at Maryland, we certainly understand the decision to cancel the game,” he said in a statement posted on Michigan State’s website. “The health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches and staff will always be our No. 1 priority. I want to thank our medical staff for everything they have done for our program all season long. They have done a tremendous job keeping us safe and we worked hard as a team to remain diligent in following all of our safety protocols.”
Only four Big Ten games are scheduled to be held this weekend, which marks the end of the regular season. The College Football Playoff committee will announce its final rankings Sunday, with the playoff semifinals set to be held Jan. 1 and the national championships game Jan. 11.
The Terps (2-3) had been hoping to end a two-game losing streak against the Spartans (2-5). There was also some chatter that if the team improved to 3-3, it might earn an invitation to a bowl for the first time since Dec. 26, 2016, when that squad lost to Boston College, 36-30, in the Quick Lane Bowl.
The schools were matched up against each other rather than participating in crossover games in which teams from the East Division were supposed to meet teams from the West according to how they finished in the standings. Maryland, which placed third in the East, would have met either No. 25 Wisconsin (2-3) or Minnesota (2-3). Instead, it was scheduled to face Michigan State, which finished seventh in the East.
The cancellation of the Terps-Spartans game is the third such development this week within the Big Ten. On Tuesday afternoon, Michigan (2-4) called off Saturday night’s game against No. 18 Iowa (6-2) because more than 50 players would not have been available due to the conference’s coronavirus protocols.
Earlier that day, both No. 7 Indiana (6-1) and Purdue (2-4) agreed to pull out of their game scheduled for Friday night because of a rise in COVID-19 cases within both programs. It will be the first since 1919 that the two schools will not meet in an annual game.