A red equipment truck with “UTAH UTES” painted in white across the wind deflector idled in a Rose Bowl tunnel Friday morning, waiting for the arrival of the team bearing its name.
It would never come.
UCLA’s home opener against Utah scheduled for Saturday at the Rose Bowl was called off after another positive COVID-19 test involving the Utes, giving the Pac-12 Conference as many games canceled as played in the season’s early going.
UCLA will instead host Cal at 9 a.m. on the west coast after the Golden Bears’ game against Arizona State was declared a no contest because of positive tests involving Sun Devil players and head coach Herm Edwards.
UCLA-Cal will be televised on FS1.
The Pac-12 has canceled four games, matching the number it has played and illuminating the challenges of starting a season as viral case counts soared across the country. It felt like the conference had reached its Rudy Gobert moment, a season on the precipice like the NBA was in March after the Utah Jazz star’s positive test presaged the widespread shutdown of sports.
Utes coach Kyle Whittingham said on Monday that his team barely satisfied the minimum threshold of 53 scholarship players available, adding that scout-teamers were moving up to the first team and walk-ons were preparing to play. The game against UCLA, originally scheduled for Friday, was pushed back one day to bolster its chances of taking place.
Utah left guard Nick Ford tweeted Friday that Los Angeles County officials were not allowing him to play after being exposed to COVID-19 even though he had received “20-plus negative tests” over eight days. A City of Pasadena spokesperson said the city’s protocols would not prevent the game from proceeding but required a 14-day quarantine for anyone who had been a close contact of someone who tested positive.
“Disappointment and frustration are both understatements for the way I feel,” Ford wrote. “When it’s finally my time to step back on the field ... feel bad for whoever I’m going against.”
UCLA completed its opener after one player tested positive in the week before the game. The Bruins were spared the fate of other teams that have had to cancel games because they did not have to quarantine a wide swath of players, though the player who tested positive remained out this weekend, coach Chip Kelly said.
A daily testing system designed to spare the Pac-12 season has instead imperiled it. Conference officials acknowledged Friday that a testing error had led to multiple Stanford players being held out of a game against Oregon last weekend even though subsequent testing showed that the one player suspected to have the virus was actually negative.
“We apologize to the Stanford football team and its supporters, and especially to the student-athletes who were held out of the game as a result of the testing protocol errors,” the Pac-12 said in a statement that served as little consolation after the Cardinal’s 35-14 loss to the Ducks. “We are working with our game day testing partner to ensure this type of error does not occur in the future.”
UCLA juggling its schedule within a season is rare but not unprecedented. A game on the road against Miami in 1998 was rescheduled for later in the season because of Hurricane Georges. A game against Arizona State in 2001 was postponed until the end of the season after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.