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Postponement, outbreaks: SEC takes a hit from COVID-19

The Southeastern Conference is taking a hit from COVID-19.

The conference on Monday postponed Saturday’s game between No. 20 Auburn and Mississippi State because of positive COVID-19 cases and quarantining within the Bulldogs’ program.

No. 5 Texas A&M paused in-person activities after a player and a staff member tested positive for COVID-19 after returning from a win at South Carolina. LSU is battling an outbreak that could put Saturday’s game against No. 1 Alabama in jeopardy. And Arkansas coach Sam Pittman has tested positive and could miss the game at No. 6 Florida.

The stop-and-start nature of college sports in a pandemic is familiar by now, but the cluster of problems was a reminder how fragile the season is. The problems Monday extended beyond the SEC, too: Michigan State announced that men’s basketball coach Tom Izzo has tested positive for COVID-19, the Mountain West canceled Air Force’s scheduled football game at Wyoming this Saturday due to an “upward trend” of COVID-19 cases at the academy and the Pac-12 opened its season over the weekend with two games postponed.

Mississippi State said its program has fallen below the minimum threshold of 53 available scholarship athletes needed to play. The game wastentatively rescheduled for Dec. 12 in Starkville, Mississippi. Athletic director John Cohen said the Bulldogs were disappointed, but “our priority is the health, safety and well-being of our student-athletes and staff.”

Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said the Aggies were undergoing additional testing and contact tracing amid hopes the team could return to campus Tuesday. He was confident that Saturday’s game at Tennessee will be played.

Pittman learned Monday he had tested positive. SEC protocol for asymptomatic positives will require him to isolate for at least 10 days from the date of the positive test if a retest confirms the result. Defensive coordinator Barry Odom will serve as interim head coach for now.

LSU coach Ed Orgeron stressed he wanted to be cautious about answering medical questions and didn’t want to get into the number of players affected by the team’s latest outbreak or the number of positive tests. He said related quarantines due to possible exposure have thinned his roster.