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Badgers Cancel Nebraska Game, Pause Practices After 12 Confirmed Coronavirus Cases

Head Coach Paul Chryst Says He's Not Experiencing Symptoms After Testing Positive

"Home of the Wisconsin Badgers" is written on the side of the stadium
Camp Randall Stadium on Friday, Oct. 23, 2020, before the Badgers’ first game of the season. Fans were not allowed inside the stadium for the game against Illinois. Angela Major/WPR

The University of Wisconsin-Madison has paused football activities for at least seven days after a spike in positive coronavirus tests, according to the university’s Athletic Department.

That means the Badgers won’t face the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Saturday, and the game won’t be rescheduled.

In the last five days, six players and six staff members tested positive for the coronavirus — and more tests are pending, according to the Athletic Department. The confirmed cases include head coach Paul Chryst. On Tuesday morning, Chryst took a rapid coronavirus test that came back negative, but his more accurate molecular test came back positive Tuesday afternoon, he said during a Wednesday news conference.

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Chryst said he’s isolating at home and feeling fine.

Reports from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the Wisconsin State Journal indicate starting quarterback Graham Mertz also tested positive. The Athletic Department said this week it doesn’t plan to share test results for individual players, citing health privacy.

On Wednesday, Chryst said he couldn’t comment on how individual players are feeling or how the outbreak could affect Wisconsin’s roster in the coming weeks. Big Ten rules require players to be out at least 21 days after they’re diagnosed with the virus.

The news from Madison is a blow for the Big Ten, which announced in August it would cancel fall football amid the pandemic. The conference reversed its decision in September but set the strictest coronavirus protocols of any Power Five conference.

Players and coaches are tested daily. The Big Ten requires a team to pause football activities for seven days if 5 percent of its tests come back positive and more than 7.5 percent of essential personnel test positive, based on seven-day averages.

Wisconsin didn’t meet that threshold, Athletic Director Barry Alvarez said. Still, he and UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank decided to pause the football program in order to get ahead of the outbreak, he said. The choice was made in consultation with the Big Ten.

Alvarez, 73, said he’s expecting to receive his own coronavirus test results Thursday morning.

Wisconsin beat Illinois in the first game of the Big Ten season Friday. Mertz was sensational, completing 20 of 21 passes and throwing for five touchdowns. The Badgers are ranked No. 9.

Wednesday’s announcement is disappointing after Wisconsin played such a clean game to open the season, but it’s the right call, Alvarez said.

“You have to put priorities in order and make sure our number one concern is the health and safety of our athletes,” he said.

The Badgers’ next scheduled game is Nov. 7 against Purdue.

Coronavirus infections in Wisconsin are at an all-time high. On Tuesday, state health officials announced more than 5,000 new cases and asked residents to take the outbreak seriously. That was just one day after the state broke 200,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Earlier this week, Dr. Omai Garner, director of clinical microbiology for the UCLA Health System, said it’s likely some coronavirus cases among players and staff are inevitable given the high number of COVID-19 cases in the Midwest.

At some point, high levels of community transmission could make it unsafe to play sports through the pandemic, despite precautions, he said.

Chryst said he’s unsure how the team outbreak began, but he was hesitant to connect it to the state’s high coronavirus activity levels.