Cal football coach upset after game canceled due to COVID-19

Aggravated and at times angry, Cal football coach Justin Wilcox made it clear Thursday the decision to cancel Saturday's home opener was out of his hands. 

"This is not my decision, not a Cal football decision, not our players' decision," said Wilcox, during a Zoom call with reporters. "We didn't request to cancel the game, we were not able to play the game."

On Wednesday, the university's athletic department announced one Cal player tested positive for COVID-19.

"Fortunately right now, it's just one and he's doing well, no symptoms," said Wilcox.

But a significant number of teammates nearest to him are isolated.

Although all are negative, until they are cleared by Berkeley Public Health, Cal can't field a squad.  

"The contact tracing eliminated a lot of players and an entire position group so the game was not going to be feasible," said Wilcox. "Obviously a disappointing day for us."

Disappointing too, for the University of Washington players and fans, who were to meet the Bears at Memorial Stadium.

"I actually live in a co-op style house and we were planning to do a little thing to watch the game on TV," said Cal student Lizzie Brennan, walking across a quiet campus Thursday.

Brennan has experienced past game days - the excitement, the parties- and knew this year's season wouldn't be like the last, not with the stands and campus so empty.

Still, it was something. 

"It's definitely a bummer because football seemed like one thing that could kind of become normal again," said Brennan.

A freshman student agreed.

"There aren't a lot of opportunities to show pride in the school and I think sports are a good outlet for that," said James Rooney, who lives on campus but takes all his classes remotely.  "Canceling the game is a shame, one more thing taken away from us because of COVID. But in the bigger picture, it's a pandemic and we expect to have things change."

Coach Wilcox says Cal has planned its season around best COVID protocols that are being strictly followed.

Players distance themselves in meetings, have no locker room contact, and in practice, are not in physical contact with each other for more than ten minutes at a time.

"We respect the virus, the seriousness of it," said Wilcox, who notes players are see teams in the same situation taking the field because their jurisdictions aren't as strict.     

"The players get a bit frustrated as you can imagine, there's no consistency there," said Wilcox, "and they're upset, they want to play. We all want to play."

Cal's second game, on the road against Arizona State University, is also in doubt if the quarantine period stretches long enough that a large group of players remain sidelined.

"What else can we do, how else can we do this better?" asked Wilcox.

He says communication with local health officials needs to improve and did not rule out moving future games out of Berkeley, although that would be a university decision.

"We don't take COVID lightly but there's also a heavy investment these guys make day in and day out in order to have these limited number of chances so you really do feel for them," said Wilcox.  

Debora Villalon is a reporter for KTVU.  Email Debora at and follow her on Twitter@DeboraKTVU