Georgia Tech-Pitt game postponed

Georgia Tech players react to their loss against Notre Dame on Saturday, October 31, 2020. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Georgia Tech players react to their loss against Notre Dame on Saturday, October 31, 2020. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Georgia Tech moved safely along through seven games amid the coronavirus pandemic, taking precautions such as foregoing team meals on the road, eating them before home games behind plexiglass shields and enforcing social distancing at practice by having players stand apart from one another in painted circles along the sidelines.

However, COVID-19 caught the Yellow Jackets – and their opponent, Pittsburgh – before their eighth game. Both teams paused activities Thursday and will not play their game scheduled for Saturday night at Bobby Dodd Stadium. The game has been postponed until Dec. 12.

“The rescheduling follows positive tests, subsequent quarantining, and contact tracing within the Georgia Tech and Pitt football teams,” a news release from the ACC read. “The teams are adhering to the minimum outlined protocols within ACC Medical Advisory Group report.”

The Tech-Pitt game became the ninth game scheduled for this weekend to be postponed or canceled, joined later Thursday by a 10th, Rice-Louisiana Tech. That game became the 57th to be canceled or postponed because of COVID-related reasons.

“It’s unfortunate that we will not be able to play this Saturday as scheduled, but the decision was made in the best interests of the health and safety of both teams,” Tech athletic director Todd Stansbury said in a statement.

Tech practiced Wednesday, but its Thursday practice was canceled. In his statement, Stansbury said that “a combination of on-field injuries, COVID-19 contact tracing and a relatively low number of positive COVID-19 tests left us unable to field the requisite number of student-athletes needed to compete, particularly at certain positions.”

On Monday, Pitt issued shelter-in-place guidelines because of an increasing number of positive tests on campus and in Allegheny County. The men’s soccer team and the swimming and diving team also have had to pause activities because of COVID-related protocols.

In the past week and a half, 12 Jackets athletes across the athletic department’s 17 varsity sports tested positive for COVID-19, according to a school spokesman.

ACC protocol calls for athletes identified through contact tracing to quarantine for 14 days before returning. Athletes who test positive are to be isolated for 10 days from the onset of symptoms or a positive test, and at least one day after recovery from fever and improvement of respiratory symptoms. Tech has been hit by injuries at particular position groups, namely the defensive line.

Tech’s news release announced the team’s expectation to prepare and play at Miami on Nov. 21. Normally, the team’s practice week begins Sunday.

What has been common in game postponements or cancellations this year is that contact tracing has often been more impactful in depleting rosters of available players than actual positive tests, as one positive test can wipe out that player’s position group given the time spent together in meetings and practice.

According to a document regarding ACC protocol on postponing games obtained by ESPN reporter Andrea Adelson, teams “should have an adequate number of players from its original roster, including at least seven scholarship offensive linemen” to be able to play.

Given the length of the quarantining measures and Stansbury’s disclosing a “relatively low number of positive COVID-19 tests,” the fact that Tech announced its expectation to play Miami is an indication that beat-up position groups likely did not play a small part in Tech’s inability to field a full team as COVID-related matters.

The ACC’s modified schedule left open Dec. 12, between the end of the regular season and the ACC Championship game, for potential makeup games. There are now four games involving seven conference teams scheduled for that weekend (one Friday and three Saturday), almost half of the 15-team league. The conference is approaching a point where games may not be able to be made up on that weekend, and perhaps ever, if more games are unable to be played as scheduled.

“We are fortunate to have an outstanding group of doctors and medical professionals providing us daily consultation in this challenging environment,” Pitt AD Heather Lyke said in a statement. “Following their recommendation, our football program will pause all activities. Our protocols have prepared us to anticipate and manage these circumstances. Our top priority will always be the health and well-being of our student-athletes, coaches and staff.”

To this point, Tech had been able to avoid postponements either because of outbreaks within its own team or its opponents'. But, on multiple occasions, Collins spoke to the challenges of keeping a team safe in the midst of the pandemic.

“It is no small task, every single week, just to get to a college football game,” Collins said Tuesday at his weekly news conference.

On Tech’s campus, aggressive testing and attention to health protocols have helped keep positive cases relatively low. On the institute website, the positivity rate over the past seven days was .57% as of Thursday evening, an encouraging number. The rate in the state of Georgia was 8.1%, according to Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Center on Thursday.

However, a recent jump in overall positives and positivity rate led school officials to continue to stress to students the need to be vigilant and safe.

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