The day after Tennessee received a bowl bid because of circumstances related to COVID-19, the Vols won't play for the same reason. .
The university announced Monday afternoon that the Vols had paused all team activities after Sunday’s round of test results and will be unable to play in the Liberty Bowl on Dec. 31 in Memphis. The test results revealed an increase in positive tests among student-athletes and staffers and subsequent contract tracing.
The news was first reported by ESPN.com's Chris Low.
Head coach Jeremy Pruitt was among those who tested positive for the virus.
He immediately began isolating at home.
“I am experiencing mild symptoms but doing fine,” Pruitt said in a university release. “We are obviously disappointed that we will not be able to play in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl but the health and safety of our student-athletes will always remain our top priority.”
The decision to opt out of the bowl was made in consultation with health officials, the SEC and the Liberty Bowl, which will have to find another opponent to play West Virginia. Along with Pruitt, the other student-athletes and staffers impacted began taking appropriate safety measures in accordance with university, CDC and local health department guidelines.
Despite going 3-7, the Vols were slotted for the bowl initially due to the unusual circumstances related to the pandemic. At least 20 teams already have had enough of the season and opted out of postseason play. LSU chose not to go bowling as a self-imposed penalty associated with an NCAA investigation.
Several of the bowl games, in turn, have been bowing out because of the attrition. The NCAA waived its six-win requirement for bowl eligibility in order to fill the remaining slots. The decision opened an opportunity for Tennessee.
Pruitt had referenced the pandemic following Saturday’s 34-13 season-ending loss to Texas A&M at Neyland Stadium.
“I get it, 3-7 is not where we want to be, right?” he said. “But there’s one thing I can say. I can lay my head down on my pillow every night and know that I’ve done everything I could possibly do to make sure that we protected everybody in our program. When looking for a competitive edge, there’s lots of things we didn’t know about. If we were going to have a COVID season again, I’d probably be a little more prepared to handle it. But I get the business. I understand it.”
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Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri, who covered University of Tennessee athletics from 1988-2019. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.