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Apple Cup likely to be canceled amid WSU COVID outbreak

A spate of positive tests seven days before the game makes it hard to see a way forward.

Washington State v Washington Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

UPDATE: The game indeed has been canceled.

The most important thing to remember in the midst of a pandemic is that everyone’s health is the most important thing, so as the Washington State Cougars’ roster experiences a COVID outbreak, the players’ health is foremost on our minds. Here’s to hoping everyone who has tested positive experiences no symptoms and returns to the team full strength.

But since the decision was made to play sports this fall ... and since we write about these sports ...

We need to talk about the Apple Cup.

As of yet, there is no definitive word on whether the positive COVID tests that forced the cancellation of their game against the Stanford Cardinal on Saturday will also lead to the cancellation of the 2020 Apple Cup, which is just seven days away.

However, once you start considering the implications of isolations and quarantines required in the wake of positive tests and attendant contact tracing, it becomes very difficult to see how WSU is going to be able to field a team for the game that can meet the roster requirement of 53 players, to say nothing of position group minimums.

Before we get into the numbers, here’s one very simple fact that should give you pause: With similar outbreaks, both the Utah Utes and Arizona State Sun Devils have had to cancel two games. But let’s go ahead and break down the Cougars’ situation.

WSU had four players return positive tests today, which is what led them to drop below the minimum number required for Saturday’s game and pull the plug at the last minute; that’s in addition to five positive tests earlier in the week, which included starting quarterback Jayden de Laura.

Now, consider that anyone who tests positive must isolate for 10 days, and anyone caught up in contact tracing must isolate for 14 days. That means:

  • Anyone who tested positive today won’t be playing by next Friday (unless it’s determined to be a false positive);
  • Anyone caught up in contact tracing at any point this week won’t be eligible to return, either (no amount of negative tests can get you out of the 14-day quarantine, unless the origin case of COVID in the contact tracing is determined to be a false positive);
  • Anyone who tested positive very early this week might be able to play, pending symptoms.

Best case scenario, WSU could have those five players who tested positive earlier in the week back by Friday, assuming all those positives popped on Monday. But that would only matter if today’s situation put them barely under the roster minimum — something we don’t really know, because we don’t know the extent of the contact tracing. Maybe getting some injured guys back helps with that?

But keep in mind: All this number crunching is completely dependent on there being no additional positive test results, and ... well, you can decide for yourself just how likely you think that is at this point, given what we’ve seen happen with Utah and Arizona State.

WSU athletics director Pat Chun was holding out hope today that they’d figure something out for the Apple Cup, but the exponential nature of contact tracing just seems to make that very, very unlikely.

Does that mean there would be no Apple Cup at all this season? It’s tough to say — so much is up in the air right now and the rules are sort of being made up on the fly. It’s not too far fetched to think that there’d be another opportunity to play it if both WSU and UW’s opponents ended up in a similar COVID mess on the same weekend. Or, maybe the game gets played on the final weekend of the season instead of the crossover, presuming neither team is involved in the Pac-12 Championship.

The only thing we know is that we don’t really know anything for sure in this pandemic environment.