From the reunions to the tailgates to the stadium sounds, much of what fans in the state of Washington cherish about the college football experience has already been put on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, add the Apple Cup to the list.
For the first time since 1943 and 1944, when it was placed on a two-year hiatus in the middle of World War II, Washington State and Washington will go a full calendar year without playing the annual rivalry game that has historically captured the collective attention of the Evergreen State a day or two after the Thanksgiving holiday.
Pete Thamel of Yahoo! Sports was the first to report on the game’s cancellation, citing anonymous sources, and the Pacific-12 Conference sent out a news release shortly thereafter announcing the game was off due to “Washington State not having the minimum number of scholarship players available for the game as a result of a number of positive football student-athlete COVID-19 cases and resulting isolation of additional football student-athletes under contact tracing protocols.”
In a statement, WSU Athletic Director Pat Chun didn’t completely rule out the possibility of rescheduling the game for later in the season, saying “as we work through the remainder of our schedule, we will continue to communicate with the Pac-12 Conference and UW if any scenario would emerge that would allow us to reschedule the game at a later point in the season.”
According to Thamel, there’s a “strong desire” from both schools, as well as the Pac-12, to play the game. The conference schedule doesn’t offer much leeway for schools to make up games, but if neither is playing in the Pac-12 title game, there might be an opportunity to play the Apple Cup on Dec. 19.
Teams not playing in the championship game are scheduled to play cross- division games on that date, but for the Cougars and Huskies, there may be a stronger urge to keep their rivalry series alive.
UW Athletic Director Jen Cohen expressed a desire to play the game, saying in a statement: “We will work with Pac-12 to prioritize this game and look into any opportunities to play it should there be an open date for both schools down the road.”
In the statement, Chun said he couldn’t “forecast a scenario” in which the Cougars would’ve been able to meet the minimum threshold of 53 players by Friday’s game, and said losing the rivalry was “gut-wrenching and disappointing for our student-athletes and coaches as well as those at UW.”
UW would’ve entered Friday’s game at Martin Stadium with a seven-year win streak in the rivalry , and the Huskies were favored to win the 2020 game, featuring new head coaches on both sides, by 7½ points.
The Apple Cup already would’ve been played without fans for the first time in series history, but the game itself seemed in serious jeopardy when the Cougars announced Friday they wouldn’t be able to meet the 53-man threshold to play Saturday’s game against Stanford in the Bay Area.
Injuries, opt-outs and transfers had already impacted WSU’s ability to field a full football team, but an ugly situation grew even more grim when, within the past seven days, the Cougars placed nine more players in the COVID-19 protocol – including starting quarterback Jayden de Laura. WSU requires a minimum 10-day isolation period for those who tested positive and a 14-day quarantine for those in the protocol due to contact tracing.
All nine should theoretically be out of COVID-19 protocol by the time WSU is supposed to play at USC on Friday, Dec. 4, but the Cougars probably can’t afford many slip-ups between now and then. If a WSU player was placed in the protocol today as a result of a positive COVID-19 test, he’d have a chance to play at USC, but not if he was in the protocol for contact tracing purposes, which requires a full two-week quarantine.
According to Cohen, the Huskies are “working to find another opponent” for this weekend. BYU, which has an open week, and Utah, which may not be able to play Arizona State if the Sun Devils’ COVID-19 situation doesn’t improve, were both thought to be potential opponents for UW, but BYU has since indicated it isn’t interested in a game.
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