JONESBORO — COVID-19 has forced another adjustment in Arkansas State University’s football schedule.
ASU announced Tuesday that its home football game against Central Arkansas, which had been scheduled for Saturday, has been rescheduled for Oct. 10.
According to university officials, ASU postponed the game because the Red Wolves would not be able to assemble a full, two-deep depth chart at a specific position group due to player unavailability. Athletic director Terry Mohajir said he made the decision, adding that chancellor Kelly Damphousse and system president Chuck Welch agreed with the decision not to play this week.
“It was based on last week, this week and some symptomatic players,” Mohajir said. “We had a concentration at one position group where we couldn’t line up and play two-deep football, which is kind of our barometer.”
ASU football players were tested three times for COVID-19 in the week leading up to their Sept. 5 season opener at Memphis and three more times last week before their game at Kansas State.
The Red Wolves gained national attention last weekend with their 35-31 upset of the Wildcats, a game they won without several key players. Head coach Blake Anderson confirmed ASU played without 10 starters because of COVID-19 and contact tracing, but would not say how many players did not make the trip because of the protocol.
Anderson said his concerns about playing this week began last week.
“I told Terry late last week that I was concerned going into the game with where the roster was at and when guys were supposed to come back to the roster and just the possibility of any injuries (against Kansas State), that depending on how the weekend went and if we were to lose anybody, we could be in a critical stage at a couple of positions,” Anderson said. “That’s kind of where we’re at. It’s a combination of COVID testing and injuries and being able to safely play at a position. I was worried about it late in the week.
“We were able to manage our roster through the weekend, but we had injuries in the weekend and we’ve got some guys who don’t feel well.”
Mohajir said the Red Wolves are down to one available player in the affected position group because of COVID-19 and contact tracing. The position group was not named.
“It’s not the volume of players who are out, it’s the concentration of one position group, period. That’s really what it is,” Mohajir said. “We don’t have that many more players out this week than we did last week.”
ASU reported a total of 180 active virus cases on campus Tuesday, which included 46 students living on campus, 125 living off campus and nine employees. The university stressed those numbers are self-reported.
Mohajir declined to say how many football players are out because of COVID-19.
“That’s the only thing I don’t talk about,” he said. “We’re not going to talk about it this year. That’s just a policy we have.”
Anderson said some football players who weren’t feeling well have been tested for COVID-19 this week. The entire team is scheduled for another test this morning.
Both Mohajir and Anderson said the football staff spent time trying to figure out how to move players around to fit the affected position group and could not do it. Not playing on Saturday was the last option, Anderson said.
“We looked at the roster in every way we could and at the end of the day, we’re at a point where we can’t field a position safely,” Anderson said. “We would have been putting people in position that they’re not ready to be in to play a game and by postponing the game, it allows us to be safe with moving forward. That’s the best way to put it. We looked at every available option. It’s not safe to play Saturday.”
ASU and UCA were not initially scheduled to meet this season, but the schools agreed to play after being left with open dates in the wave of coronavirus-related cancellations and postponements across college football. The Kansas State game was another recent addition to ASU’s schedule.
UCA sports information director Steve East said the Bears bumped back a scheduled trip to Eastern Kentucky in order to play ASU on Oct. 10. The Bears will visit EKU on Oct. 24 instead.
“UCA was fantastic,” Mohajir said. “They had to move a game. It wasn’t an easy task by any means, but they were very helpful. They want to play the game and so do we. They were very accommodating.”
All tickets purchased for Saturday’s game will be honored on the Oct. 10 game date, ASU announced.
Anderson said some players will return from quarantine over the weekend. The Red Wolves will train in small, spread-out groups the next couple of days, he said, and practice again Friday if test results return and they feel comfortable doing so.
ASU is scheduled to host Tulsa on Sept. 26.
“Right now I feel like we’ll have a team that we can put on the field. It will be similar to what we did at K-State,” Anderson said. “There will be guys who have to play that maybe weren’t expecting to or we might have to slide a couple of guys around positionally, but we’re not going to have to take a guy at a position that he works at every day and play him in a position that he’s never even seen before and ask him to play 75, 80 snaps.”
Mohajir also expects the Red Wolves to resume their season on Sept. 26.
“We won’t have all our players back,” Mohajir said. “We think, with testing going well this week, we should be fine. But I didn’t wake up this morning thinking that we would be postponing this game, either.”