USC-Cal football game postponed due to COVID-19 cases among Golden Bears

The USC-California football game scheduled for Saturday has been postponed, Cal announced Tuesday.

"It was a difficult decision to postpone this Saturday's game against USC," Cal athletic director Jim Knowlton said in a statement. "We know how important every one of our games is to our student-athletes, especially our seniors who have been incredible representatives of the program, but it was the right thing to do.

"Due to additional impact on specific position groups, we have decided to postpone Saturday's game. We have had multiple COVID-19 positives within our program, and we are taking every step we can to mitigate the spread and protect the greater community."

The schools later agreed, and received Pac-12 approval, to reschedule the game for Dec. 4 -- a day after the conference title game. That follows the precedent set when the Big Game between Cal and Stanford was postponed in 2018, due to poor air quality.

Cal was undermanned for its game at Arizona on Saturday, with approximately 42 scholarship players in uniform after roughly two dozen tested positive during the week. The team, which has a 99% vaccination rate among players, experienced additional positive cases after the Arizona game, the school said.

"Our heart goes out to all of the people who enjoy our games in so many ways and especially the players who only get so many chances to go out and play them," Cal coach Justin Wilcox said in a statement. "Postponing this game was a last resort and not an action any of us wanted to take, however it was not possible for us to field a team on Saturday."

Early last week, the team had a couple players showing symptoms consistent with COVID-19 and subsequently tested positive, according to Knowlton. Following guidance from Berkeley Public Health, the school tested the rest of the team, which revealed the outbreak, Knowlton said in a virtual press conference Tuesday night.

During a meeting with University Health Services on Monday, Cal defensive lineman Luc Bequette tweeted, in part, "UHS told us we could be arrested for refusing to test as vaccinated individuals with no symptoms."

In response to a request for additional context about the allegation from Bequette, which was confirmed to ESPN by multiple sources, a campus spokesperson said the official -- identified by Knowlton as Dr. Anna Harte, the UHS medical director -- was asked about what consequences an individual could face for not getting tested.

"[Harte] was pressed on the issue of what would be the most one could face for not testing," Janet Gilmore, U.C. Berkeley's senior director of strategic communications, told ESPN in an email. "The official offered an extreme example and indicated that public health departments have that authority in such extreme cases. [Harte], ALSO stated that there is no indication this is likely to happen as things stand here, and told them that this has never happened before in our work with the local public health department."

Gilmore refused to answer multiple follow-up questions about the exchange. She provided a link the CDC legal authorities for isolation and quarantine for further guidance. When reached by text message, Harte deferred questions to Gilmore.

"[The players] asked exactly the kind of questions you'd expect an incredibly intelligent student athlete from Cal to ask," Knowlton said. "And I think one of the questions -- again, I wasn't there -- but dealt with what are the repercussions if you don't follow the public health orders? And I think she started and worked her way all the way down to, ultimately, what happens if someone continues to refuse to follow public health orders is my understanding."

Had a player refused to be tested, Knowlton said they would have not been permitted to play.

The overwhelming majority of the players who tested positive are asymptomatic, sources told ESPN.