Air Force's football game Saturday against Army is off because of COVID-19 complications.
No make-up date has been announced for the game that would have given the Falcons an opportunity to capture their first Commander-in-Chief's Trophy in four years.
The postponement is also part of an academy-wide pause of activities to combat rising coronavirus numbers.
"We are disappointed to postpone this game, but the health and safety of our cadets, staff and the community continues to be our No. 1 priority at the academy,” Air Force Athletic Director Nathan Pine said in a release. "Due to the upward trends in our COVID numbers across the campus, we have paused all intercollegiate team activities.”
The Gazette had previously reported that as many as seven Air Force players were not expected to be available — not necessarily because any had tested positive for COVID-19, but as the result of contract tracing protocols at the academy that led to quarantines. A source indicated those numbers grew between late Wednesday and early Thursday. It is unclear if any Air Force players or personnel tested positive, and the academy has not been willing to discuss any specifics surrounding the virus. One source told The Gazette that no players had tested positive.
In an internal memo from Pine obtained by The Gazette before the postponement announcement, he describes increased academy-wide restrictions that include a transition to 100% remote classes.
"In consultation with USAFA leadership team and our doctors, we have no choice but to increase our team mitigations as well," he wrote. "We will suspend all practicing for a period of time starting (Thursday) to coincide with the 100% COVID testing and remote classes. All team practices and lifts will be on hold for a period of time (not sure exactly how long that will be right now but until further notice), our facilities will be closed to cadets for that time as well.
"With 100% testing, I am hopeful this pause will be short and we can isolate the positives and stop the spread of COVID, but the virus will dictate a bit of that. As soon as it is safe, we will return to practice.
"This is certainly not where any of us wanted to be in early November, but we have prepared for conditions to possibly require this. We have to get ourselves reset. Thank you for all that you are doing right now; I appreciate that this is not easy for any one of us or our athletes."
Air Force and Army don't have any common open dates remaining on the schedule unless they were to squeeze a game in on Dec. 19 in the week between the Black Knights' game against Navy on Dec. 12 and the Independence Bowl, for which it has already accepted an invitation, on Dec. 26.
Army coach Jeff Monken expressed skepticism over Air Force's motives on a radio show Thursday night.
"I told (athletic director) Mike (Buddie), 'Let's go out there. Let's ask them if they want us to come out there.' We can play them at the parking lot of the PX or the prep school practice field," Monken said, as reported by longtime Army beat writer Sal Interdonato. "I don't care, we can play them anywhere. I was willing to play the game and wanted to play the game. Our kids wanted to play the game, and (Air Force) unfortunately felt like they didn't have enough guys, be it from COVID or probably injury and it made it a little more convenient to say, 'No, we don't want to do it this weekend.'"
The Falcons were scheduled to travel to New York on Thursday, a day earlier than most road trips, to adjust to Eastern Standard Time prior to Saturday’s 9:30 a.m. Mountain Time kickoff.
Air Force was in position to capture the commander-in-chief’s trophy thanks to a 40-7 win over Navy on Oct. 3.
The trophy, which generally comes with a trip to the White House for the seniors, is a primary goal for Air Force players — a feeling that was heightened this year because the senior class had not experienced a victory in that three-team round robin with Army and Navy.
"To me, this whole academy experience has been a four-year grind," Air Force center Nick Noyen said. "Winning the [trophy] with all my brothers in the locker room — it would be like the cherry-on-top feeling where we accomplished something, put our minds to it, and we succeeded and get to celebrate it as brothers."