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Tennessee scraps scrimmage with 44 Vols out


Tennessee football coach Jeremy Pruitt says he had to turn a scheduled scrimmage into a regular practice Saturday because 44 players could not practice.

Pruitt says those players hadn’t been at the last three or four practices, and the Vols were left with only 30 offensive players. That forced coaches to focus on two groups in situational work.

Of the 44 Volunteers who did not practice, Pruitt says seven or eight of those are active COVID-19 cases. Three players are dealing with injuries or surgeries. Pruitt says approximately 27 or 28 are in quarantine.

Pruitt says Tennessee has had 48 players who have missed at least 14 days due to quarantine, with four quarantined twice. Some self-reported, and Pruitt says one eventually tested positive for COVID. He says they are working through contract tracing.

Teams are allowed 25 practices, and Pruitt says Tennessee probably will end up with 20 or 22 practices barring a change over the next couple weeks. He says they’re learning as they go and it’s been tough to prepare a team to play.

Tennessee, Auburn cancel practice due to positive tests

Caitie McMekin/News Sentinel

Positive tests for COVID-19 has forced a pair of ranked Southeastern Conference teams to cancel at least a practice or two as the league announced guidelines for game day covering everything from who will be allowed on the field to press boxes.

Coach Jeremy Pruitt said he canceled Friday’s practice for No. 25 Tennessee due to a “few more positive” test results and Saturday night’s practice also could be canceled depending on the results after everyone in the program was tested Friday morning.

No. 11 Auburn has canceled its last two practices because of positive test results this week, said a person with knowledge of the situation. How many players, coaches or others tested positive remained unclear. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss details.

Pruitt said it was his decision to cancel Friday’s practice. Tennessee has had good testing results with the exception of when the Volunteers returned after eight days off for the Fourth of July holiday. Then results returned more positive tests, so Pruitt said he shut down practice.

“We retested everybody again this morning to see where we’re at,” Pruitt said. “Our No. 1 priority here is to be able to protect everybody associated with our program, and that’s what we’re going to continue to do. As we get the results back, we’ll see exactly where we’re at and we’ll start practice up accordingly.”

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn is scheduled to speak to reporters Saturday. Auburn spokesman Kirk Sampson would only confirm that the Tigers hadn’t practiced Wednesday or Thursday as scheduled.

Malzahn had previously said the Tigers had gone two straight weeks without a positive after a rash of positives a month before. He said Auburn still had four players going through protocols when the team began practice on Aug. 17.

“We’re going to be very transparent,” Malzahn said on Aug. 22. “We’ll keep y’all updated from week to week as we go, and we hope the other programs do the same thing.”

Vanderbilt also missed two practices after canceling a scheduled session Aug. 21 and didn’t return to practice until Wednesday.

The Tigers are scheduled to open the season against Kentucky while Tennessee visits South Carolina on Sept. 26 as the SEC kicks off its 10-game, league-only season.

Pruitt said the Vols might not practice Saturday night either if they don’t track down the source of the latest positive test results.

“We want to make sure we figure out why,” Pruitt said of these increased positive results.

Pruitt said students are back on campus and this is something their players are going to have to learn to handle. Tennessee wants to trace these positive results back to the source of infection to prevent this from happening again.

With the season kickoff still a month away, Pruitt said they have time to be cautious and still get the 25 practices allotted in.

“It’s not like we are running out of time or anything like that,” Pruitt said. “We want to make sure that we are protecting or players and reassuring their safety.”

Tennessee restricts tickets to about 25% of Neyland’s seats

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee will be selling tickets for approximately 25% of the fan seats at Neyland Stadium this season, officials announced Tuesday. The stadium has a capacity of 102,455, counting everybody in the building, which could mean around 25,000 fans.

The Volunteers’ first home game is Oct. 3 against Missouri and university officials say restrictions could change during the season based on statewide virus data and recommendations from public health officials. Tennessee asked fans statewide to wear masks in public.

Athletic director Phillip Fulmer said he empathizes with the thousands of fans who won’t get to experience an in-person game day this season.

“These circumstances are beyond our control, and we understand the importance of playing our part to keep our community healthy,” Fulmer said. “For those who will be with us in the stadium this season, please know that we are committed to creating the safest possible environment in and around Neyland Stadium.”

Neyland Stadium has the fifth-largest capacity of U.S. stadiums. With the Big Ten canceling its season, no football will be played at the three largest: Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Penn State’s Beaver Stadium or Ohio Stadium in Columbus.

The Southeastern Conference has the next two largest stadiums, Kyle Field at Texas A&M and Neyland.

Under the policy announced Tuesday, students and active donors with season tickets get top priority for tickets, and season tickets will be offered based on annual amount given and the order to the Tennessee Fund. Ticket prices will not change with the Volunteers hosting five SEC opponents for the first time since 1959.

Students may start requesting tickets on Sept. 23. All seating will follow social distancing guidelines, and donors will be offered tickets in specific locations starting Thursday with 48 hours to decline the tickets. Those who decline can either donate their payments to the Tennessee Fund as a tax-deductible contribution, carry over payments to the 2021 season or receive a refund.

Season ticket holders who choose to wait for next season won’t lose their seats.

Fans who do get tickets must use mobile ones and enter Neyland Stadium differently. Jimmy Delaney, associate athletic director for fan experience and sales, said there will be changes inside and outside the stadium.

“Fans attending games this season are going to have to relearn much of the Tennessee game day experience,” Delaney said.