The Tennessee Volunteers became the latest college football program to shut it down due to a recent spike of COVID-19 infections.
In doing so, Tennessee (3-7) becomes the first SEC team to bow out of bowl season. The Vols were one of five conference schools with losing records to earn a bowl bid in the upside-down world of pandemic-infused college football.
Vols No Longer Have Enough Healthy Players to Field a Team
Among the multiple players and coaches who tested positive Sunday was head coach Jeremy Pruitt. Pruitt said in a statement that he is experiencing mild symptoms, but is “doing fine.”
The Vols would have faced West Virginia (5-4) in the Dec. 31 AutoZone Liberty Bowl game in Memphis. West Virginia opened as 4.5-point favorites Sunday.
“[Our] test results revealed an increase in positive cases among student-athletes and staff and subsequent contact tracing,” the Tennessee athletic department officials said in a statement Monday. “The decision was made in consultation with health officials, the Southeastern Conference, and the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.
Tennessee’s tests were conducted on Sunday per SEC protocol, and those results were returned Monday morning after Tennessee accepted its bowl invitation.
Those players and staffers within Tennessee’s program who tested positive were retested on Monday to confirm the results.
Tennessee conducted an additional round of testing to get an accurate count of the number of players infected. The final tally Monday left the Volunteers short of players needed to participate in the game.
COVID-19 Spike in Tennessee is the Nation’s Worst
According to data from the CDC released on Monday, Tennessee became the worst state for new COVID-19 cases. The state’s average daily cases per 100k over the last seven days are at 128.1.
The Vols lost 34-13 to Texas A&M on Saturday, ending a disappointing 2020 campaign. Assistant coaches Derrick Ansley and Jay Graham weren’t in attendance because of their COVID-19-related issues. Tennessee had two games postponed during the regular season, but neither was caused by a COVID-19 outbreak within the program.
Liberty Bowl officials said Monday they are currently looking for a replacement. One possibility is 9-2 Army, which didn’t get a bowl bid on Sunday.