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Wisconsin football ready to play Michigan after getting 'handle' on COVID-19 outbreak
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Wisconsin football ready to play Michigan after getting 'handle' on COVID-19 outbreak

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After a nearly three-week hiatus, the Badgers are expecting to be back on the football field this weekend.

The University of Wisconsin football team announced Monday that it is anticipating playing Saturday at Michigan after a COVID-19 outbreak within the program caused two games to be canceled. It will continue monitoring the team’s COVID-19 testing closely to ensure that can happen, but the team began regular practices Monday morning.

No UW players or staff members have tested positive for the virus since Saturday, meaning the count has stayed at 17 players and 13 staff members since Oct. 21. The team is down to five active cases with those individuals still completing their isolation periods after testing positive.

"We feel confident that we have a handle on the situation and are excited to play this week at Michigan. As we have done throughout, we will continue to monitor our testing results and base our decision on those results,” UW athletic director Barry Alvarez said in a release.

Kickoff at Michigan (1-2) is set for 6:30 p.m. Saturday, and the No. 13 Badgers (1-0) will be seeking their first win at Michigan Stadium since 2010. That was also the last game between the teams in which UW was ranked and Michigan wasn’t, as will be the case Saturday.

UW coach Paul Chryst, who was one of the 30 individuals to contract the virus, said getting back to work with the team has been energizing and they’re focused on preparing for Michigan.

Players who tested positive on Oct. 24 are eligible to play against the Wolverines if they’re cleared by a cardiologist to return to physical activity — Friday is the end of the Big Ten’s mandate of 21 days out of game action for players who tested positive Oct. 24. Players must go through a series of workouts of increasing intensity and be cleared by a physician before advancing to the next stage. Participating in practice again can begin on day 19 of the 21-day absence from games, which would be Wednesday for players who tested positive Oct. 24

Redshirt freshman quarterback Graham Mertz tested positive on Oct. 24, meaning he could be back under center for the Badgers after posting one of the best performances in UW history in his first start. Chryst said Mertz’s prospects of playing Saturday depend on how he progresses the week.

“Graham, the way that his is timing out … he’s starting that process of coming back, his tests are all done. So I think he’ll be able to have some practice. We’ll see if it’s enough practice time,” Chryst said. “You don’t know. Each guy’s a little bit different how they handle all of it. We’ll kind of see on him and a couple of other guys that were kind of in that early group of (positive tests).”

According to UW’s news releases on testing data, at least 10 players will be out for UW against Michigan as part of the 21-day timeline. There could be more due to contact tracing. Chryst said Monday he wasn’t sure of the exact number of players he’ll be missing due to the virus because some are still pending clearance that could come late this week.

“We’ve got some guys that have done some things on special teams that are getting some work with the first two groups on offense or defense. I don’t know how that’s going to play out,” Chryst said. “We are, because of the situation both what they’re doing and how they’re progressing and obviously where the whole roster is, that we’ll have some guys probably get some snaps that three weeks ago weren’t probably in the position.”

UW has won four of the past six meetings with Michigan, including a 35-14 victory last season.

Resuming play this week is crucial for the Badgers’ hopes of competing for a Big Ten Conference championship in this truncated season. After canceling two games, UW will play a maximum of six regular-season games if it can play the rest of the slate without disruption.

According to a Big Ten policy put in place this season, “a team must play at least six games to be considered for participation in the championship game. However, if the average number of conference games played by all teams falls below six, then teams must play no less than two fewer conference games than the average number of conference games played by all teams to be considered.”

So far, the Badgers’ canceled games are the only disruptions to the Big Ten’s schedule, so the expected average number of conference games played by all teams is still between seven and eight.

Here’s a look at the timeline of the Badgers’ outbreak:

  • Oct. 21: One player tests positive
  • Oct. 23: UW beats Illinois 45-7 in season opener
  • Oct. 28: Six players, six staff members test positive from Oct. 24-28 with additional tests pending confirmation; program pauses team activities; game at Nebraska canceled
  • Oct. 29: One player and two staff members’ pending tests come back positive; case count rises to 16 (eight players, eight staff members) since Oct. 21
  • Oct. 31: Five players and two staff members test positive from Oct. 29-31; case count rises to 23 (13 players, 10 staff members) since Oct. 21
  • Nov. 3: Three players and two staff members test positive from Oct. 31-Nov. 2; pause on team activities continues; home game against Purdue canceled; case count rises to 28 (16 players, 12 staff members) since Oct. 21
  • Nov. 6: Limited on-field conditioning work resumes, with players working in groups and masks required
  • Nov. 7: One player and one staff member test positive from Nov. 4-7, marking the first days without a positive test for the program since Oct. 24; case count rises to 30 (17 players, 13 staff members) since Oct. 21
  • Nov. 9: No new positive cases from Nov. 8-9, practice resumes

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