Raymond Carlin III-USA TODAY Sports

Aranda optimistic Baylor will play Big 12 opener vs. Kansas

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WACO, Texas — Baylor coach Dave Aranda expressed optimism Monday that his team will be able to play its Big 12 opener against Kansas on Saturday after having to call off a game last weekend because of positive COVID-19 tests that affected a position group.

Declining to discuss specifics, Aranda said the Bears expected about five players back through the week at “the position that was affected,” as well as five or six players back at other positions.

“We’re feeling pretty strong about our team being fortified and being strengthened,” Aranda said. “The wild card in all it is going to be these tests that we take (this week). I feel confident about (playing). But after you’ve been hit with one of these, you’re very aware.”

Aranda, the former LSU defensive coordinator still waiting on his Baylor debut, said some of the expected returning players were coming back from injury, concussion protocol and “various other things” and that they weren’t all related to COVID.

Baylor released weekly testing results later Monday that include student-athletes and staff from multiple sports, not only football. There were four active cases, two of them asymptomatic, and the 18 cases overall being monitored, included primary contacts. The school reported three new cases since last week.

The Bears had scheduled non-conference games the past two weeks called off because of the coronavirus. Louisiana Tech had an outbreak before the Bulldogs were scheduled to play at Baylor on Sept. 12. That game was replaced by a hastily arranged reunion with former Southwest Conference rival Houston, but Baylor had to call that off about 24 hours before Saturday’s scheduled kickoff.

Big 12 policy calls for a 53-player roster to play a game, with that number including at least seven offensive linemen, four defensive linemen and one quarterback.

“We can still choose to play if we think it’s OK to to play it, if we think that we’re fine in terms of health and safety for our student athletes,” athletic director Mack Rhoades said Monday. “Obviously, we didn’t think that was the case.”

Rhoades said only that the Bears didn’t meet one of the minimums. He also didn’t provide specific numbers, but said half the players affected were positive tests, and the other half were because of close contact that put those players in a 14-day self quarantine.

Baylor-Houston postponed day before game

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
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Baylor’s season opener against Houston, scheduled less than a week ago, was one of two Bowl Subdivision games postponed Friday – the day before before they were supposed to play.

Florida Atlantic’s opener against Georgia Southern was postponed earlier in the day, following the results of FAU’s COVID-19 testing Thursday. In both cases, the schools involved said they would try to find make-up dates.

The postponements illustrate the uncertainty surrounding college sports. The number of FBS games postponed or canceled because of COVID-19 issues since Aug. 26 is 16 and the pandemic’s impact is being felt in other sports; one of college basketball’s premier tournaments is moving from Hawaii to North Carolina and the NCAA delayed the start of the basketball season to Nov. 25.

Athletes are scrambling too: Minnesota star receiver Rashod Bateman has re-joined his team after opting out of the season, and hopes to be able to play when the Big Ten starts in late October. A similar return played out earlier this week at Ohio State.

The Pac-12 could be next to get back in the game. The conference’s university presidents met Friday. A statement from the league said the CEO Group had “an informative and productive meeting.”

“We plan to reconvene this coming Thursday, Sept. 24 to make a decision regarding possible return to play prior to January 1,” the group said in a statement. “The health and safety of our student-athletes and all those connected to Pac-12 sports will continue to be our number one priority in all of our decision making.”

In putting off its opener, Baylor said it was unable to meet COVID-19 roster thresholds set by the Big 12. The school did not provide specifics on the players or positions affected by the coronavirus or the number of players who were quarantined due to contact tracing; on Monday, it said it had six active cases across its athletic programs and that 23 total cases were being monitored.

Baylor is scheduled to open its Big 12 season next week against Kansas. The Big 12 said that game is still on for now, but Baylor athletic director Mack Rhoades told SicEm365 Radio in Waco, Texas, he had not yet spoken to Kansas athletic director Jeff Long.

“Within this particular position group we can’t take on any more water,” Rhoades said.

The Big 12 said a minimum 53-player roster is necessary to play a game, and must include at least seven offensive linemen, four defensive linemen and one quarterback.

On Friday, the Southeastern Conference released similar thresholds with one key difference. The SEC said it would only count scholarship players among those minimums. The Big 12’s minimums include walk-ons.

“We’re heartbroken from this postponement,” said Dave Aranda, the former LSU defensive coordinator still waiting to make his debut as Baylor’s coach. “While we’ve been eager to play football this fall, we have all made a commitment to only do so with the highest level of safety and care for our student-athletes.”

The game between Baylor and Houston was scheduled only a week ago after the former Southwest Conference rivals both had their original openers put off because of the virus.

Baylor was supposed to play last Saturday against Louisiana Tech, which had widespread COVID-19 positive tests.

Houston was scheduled to play Friday night against Memphis, but the American Athletic Conference postponed that game last weekend after the Tigers had numerous players test positive.

Houston has now had four games postponed or canceled, including one against Washington State originally scheduled for Sept. 12 that was lost when the Pac-12 initially decided to play only conference foes. The Pac-12 subsequently postponed the fall season altogether but is now reconsidering, with a possible late October or early November start.

The Cougars are scheduled to play North Texas next week.

“We’re extremely disappointed for our student-athletes, coaches and staff,” Houston AD Chris Pezman said. “They all have consistently done the right thing and worked tirelessly to be prepared for this game.”

Baylor becomes 3rd Big 12 team to postpone opener after La Tech outbreak

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
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WACO, Texas — Baylor became the third Big 12 team forced to postpone its scheduled season opener this weekend after Louisiana Tech reported multiple positive COVID-19 tests Tuesday, less than two weeks after a hurricane affected its campus.

Louisiana Tech athletic director Tommy McClelland said Tuesday night that it wasn’t possible for the Bulldogs to play Saturday at Baylor because of the positive tests and contact tracing that would keep other players out the game.

The school didn’t provide any specific numbers, but said there was a spike in cases in the aftermath of Hurricane Laura on Aug. 27 that impacted the campus in Ruston, Louisiana, which is more than 200 miles inland. McClelland the school had only one positive case in the three weeks before the current outbreak, an indication that protocols in place were working.

“With 95% of our city losing power for days – even up to a week in many areas – our student-athletes were forced to find places to stay and some even had family from south Louisiana that came northward to stay with them,” McClelland said. “So many things that we were able to control for the month of August became out of our control, and I think the numbers prove that it took its toll.”

No makeup date was announced.

The Louisiana Tech-Baylor game is the 10th Division I game that has been postponed because of the novel coronavirus, including Big 12 games SMU at TCU and Tulsa at Oklahoma State. The other postponed games are: North Carolina State at Virginia Tech, Temple at Navy, ULM at Troy, Marshall at East Carolina, and three Rice games – against Houston, Marshall and UAB.

TCU had to put off its scheduled opener Friday night after a virus outbreak last week among a cluster of Horned Frogs players and support staff. Oklahoma State has pushed back its opener against Tulsa a week to Sept. 19 after the Golden Hurricane were limited during preseason camp because of multiple positive tests.

Seven Big 12 teams are still scheduled to play Saturday.

“We are incredibly disappointed to announce the postponement of our upcoming football game against Louisiana Tech,” Baylor athletic director Mack Rhoades said. “However, in the interest of the health and wellness of our student-athletes, coaches, and staff, we are confident in this unfortunate but necessary course of action. To the Baylor and Louisiana Tech student-athletes and communities, we share in your disappointment and look ahead to resuming play.”

The game was supposed to be the debut of new Baylor head coach Dave Aranda, the defensive coordinator last season for 15-0 national champion LSU. He replaced Matt Rhule, who was hired by the NFL’s Carolina Panthers after three seasons with the Bears.