Virus forces Minnesota to cancel game vs. No. 16 Northwestern

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota announced Monday it has called off this weekend’s game against No. 16 Northwestern, the second straight cancellation for the Gophers due to a spike in COVID-19 cases within the program.

University officials made the decision in consultation with the Big Ten after seven additional positive cases were confirmed. The Wildcats, who lead the West Division by one game at 5-1, were scheduled to play Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium. Those Gophers who’ve contracted the virus have experienced “very, very mild symptoms,” according to coach P.J. Fleck.

College football is limping toward the postseason in late December as multiple programs deal with COVID-19 outbreaks and contact tracing protocols. Four games on this week’s schedule have been postponed or canceled. Over the last three weeks, 52 games have been called off because of COVID-19 issues out of 179 that were scheduled. Since late August, the total number of canceled or postponed games is 103.

Minnesota’s football team has turned up 47 positive cases since Nov. 19 – 21 players and 26 staff members. The Gophers paused all team activities six days ago, when they canceled the annual rivalry game at Wisconsin. Minnesota also said it will hold all meetings virtually for the rest of the season. Left on the schedule is a game at Nebraska on Dec. 12 and a to-be-determined cross-division opponent on Dec. 19.

“There’s not a lot we can do about it. Nobody’s doing anything wrong. The virus remains undefeated,” Fleck said on his weekly radio appearance on KFAN-FM. “We are in a major city, surrounded by a lot of people.”

The university is working with the state health department to isolate and treat the individuals who’ve tested positive. Last week, Minnesota added testing beyond the conference’s established protocols.

“The health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches and staff continues to be our main priority,” athletic director Mark Coyle said. “The last couple of days have shown a decrease in positive cases, but not to the point where we are able to return to competition.”

Coyle said the Gophers are aiming to play Nebraska as scheduled, and Fleck said the team is game-planning for the Huskers.

The virus has done a number on the Big Ten race, with six cancellations so far. The 18th-ranked Badgers have likely become ineligible for the conference championship because they haven’t played enough games. East Division leader and third-ranked Ohio State, which had to cancel its last game against Illinois, would be in danger of that fate with one more cancellation.