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Friday June 24th

With the UNC-Charlotte game canceled, North Carolina football hits expected speed bump

<p>UNC athletic facilities worker Jaci Field disinfects the seats in Kenan Memorial Stadium after a football game against Syracuse on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020.&nbsp;</p>
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UNC athletic facilities worker Jaci Field disinfects the seats in Kenan Memorial Stadium after a football game against Syracuse on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020. 

Just one week after football returned to Kenan Memorial Stadium, UNC has already hit a COVID-19-related bump in the road. The one non-conference opponent the Tar Heels scheduled, UNC-Charlotte, had to cancel their game Thursday morning due to multiple players being placed in quarantine. 

It wasn’t unpredictable — last week, Virginia Tech and other teams across the country had to postpone season openers due to coronavirus clusters — and in some sense, No. 12 UNC’s game against Charlotte being booted from the Tar Heels’ schedule after a positive test left the 49ers roster in quarantine feels almost routine. 

“We knew when we decided to play football in this environment that cancellations would be a possibility,” UNC director of athletics Bubba Cunningham said in a statement on Thursday. 

During preparation throughout the offseason, UNC athletics put a stoppage on practice twice. First, it followed an announcement of 37 positive tests among players, coaches and athletics staff in July — since then the University hasn’t released testing numbers among athletes separately from the general UNC community. The second time came in the final weeks before kickoff, when UNC put a pause on workouts for five consecutive days following multiple clusters being reported on campus. 

For Charlotte, the cancellation came with just three announced positive tests, but contact tracing among the offensive line unit put too many members of their offensive front in quarantine to field a team on Saturday. 

The Tar Heels prepared players to move around positionally in the case of a cluster among a position group like what happened with Charlotte, head coach Mack Brown said in a press conference on Aug. 18. 

“There’s a few things that COVID has brought out, your player leadership is more important than ever,” Brown said. “The second thing is creating depth and the best way to do that with your best players is to cross-train.”

Canceled games aren’t unheard of in college football. The season typically kicks off in the midst of hurricane season in the Southeast, it isn’t uncommon for some teams to play a game short of the usual 12 due to a storm-related cancellation. Just two years ago, a UNC home date with Central Florida was canceled after Hurricane Florence hit the North Carolina coast. 

Still, cancellations in 2020 will likely amount to the most disrupted year in college football since 1918, when a combination of World War I and the Spanish Flu pushed the start of the season to November.  

UNC's contract with Charlotte originally included a $400,000 penalty if a team were to cancel its participation within 12 months of the scheduled date of the game, but the force majeure section of the contract said the agreement can be made void in the event that it became impractical to play the game. Included in the events that could lead to the agreement being rendered void were an epidemic or pandemic. 

In another section of the contract, it states that either party may suspend or terminate performance of its obligations under the contract if it is necessary to protect the safety of students and staff relating to public health or another threat. 

UNC could still add to its schedule — with nine games still slated, the Tar Heels have open dates remaining next weekend on Sept. 26 and later in the season on Nov. 21. The game would have to be against an out-of-conference opponent and played in North Carolina, because UNC has already scheduled 10 conference foes. UNC is looking to add an opponent next weekend, Cunningham said in his statement. 

Even with another game added, there’s no guarantee that UNC will complete 2020’s version of a full schedule. With five games already wiped from college football's week three slate, coronavirus and the scheduling conflicts it has caused have led to a jumbled season for teams within the ACC and across the country before most programs have even completed a second game. 

“I don’t think we’ll ever see another fall like this one again,” Brown said in an Aug. 18 press conference. 


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