N.C. State won’t start the 2020 football season in 17 days after all.
Due to a coronavirus cluster within the Wolfpack athletic program, N.C. State’s season-opening game against Virginia Tech will be pushed back. The game, scheduled for Sept. 12, but has moved to Sept. 26, according to the ACC.
N.C. State’s first game will now be Sept. 19 at home versus Wake Forest. It’s the first time since the 2005 season that the Wolfpack will start the season at home against a conference opponent.
“We appreciate the ACC and Virginia Tech working together in partnership to move this game to a mutual open weekend,” N.C. State Director of Athletics Boo Corrigan said in a release from the school. “There’s no blueprint for what we’re all trying to navigate and we are grateful for everyone’s collaboration to make this work.”
On Monday, the school announced the suspension of all athletic-related activities due to a coronavirus cluster within its sports programs.
In a statement on its website, N.C. State reported 27 cases within its athletic department, and of those, not all are athletes.
A cluster is defined by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services as five or more individuals. Individuals who contact COVID-19, or have come in contact with someone who tests positive, should quarantine for 14 days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
With so many players, coaches and staff away from practice for 14 days so close to the start of the season, N.C. State and Virginia Tech decided to reschedule the opener. When the ACC revised the 2020 schedules, each team got two open dates. N.C. State’s only open date is now Oct. 31.
“The ACC created a league schedule with flexibility to adjust games if needed,” Wolfpack head coach Dave Doeren said. “There are going to be times teams must adjust based on what is best for the health and safety of the players and staffs involved. This move provides our team and staff the time needed to prepare and reacclimate after pausing our practices.”
The Wolfpack have not set a date to return to practice.
According to ACC Medical Advisory Group (MAG) protocol it is required that team members are tested each week beginning with the week of the first competition against an opposing team. N.C. State has been testing weekly since returning to campus this summer and increased testing last week, according to senior AD for communications Fred Demarest. Last week the team started testing twice a week, Demarest told the N&O.
The athletics department reported it has conducted 2,053 coronavirus tests on athletes, coaches and staff with 30 positive results (1.46 percent) since it started testing in June. Those numbers include 693 new tests and 22 new positive cases since the school’s last report on Aug. 14.
NC State moves classes online
N.C. State went online classes only for the remainder of the fall semester. Athletes were allowed to stay on campus and continue to practice and workout.
N.C. State reported three new COVID-19 clusters Monday afternoon in a campus-wide alert. Many felt that would give athletes chances to better isolate, or create an on-campus bubble similar to what professional teams like the NBA and NHL have done.
Mandy Cohen, Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, talked about the issue on Tuesday at her weekly press conference. Cohen felt that football shouldn’t happen now on a recreational, high school level, but noted how college sports’ protocols have seemingly been effective.
“They’re taking different kinds of precautions that generally we don’t see in the rest of the public,” Cohen said. “So they are exempt from our executive orders in terms of moving forward. A lot of our Division I sports are doing a testing regimen that is very aggressive. And they’re doing other protocols of trying to cohort folks together. I know it may not be a perfect bubble, but bubble-like activities.”
Wednesday afternoon N.C. State announced it will close its campus residence halls in response to continuing spread of COVID-19. The university has reported 21 clusters since classes began Aug. 10. There have been 546 positive cases of COVID-19 at N.C. State since the pandemic began in March, according to the school’s dashboard.
Of the 21 clusters identified at N.C. State, four are in campus residence halls.
Students living in dorms will be moved out over the next 11 days, starting on Aug. 27 and wrapping up Sunday, Sept. 6. Exemptions are being considered for students who wish to remain on campus due to a special circumstance. Fred Demarest, senior AD for communications, said that athletes who don’t live off campus can apply for a waiver based on their need to remain close to campus. Those will be reviewed on a case by case basis.
Sports reporter Jonas Pope IV has covered college recruiting, high school sports, NC Central, NC State and the ACC for The Herald-Sun and The News & Observer.