Tennessee football coach Jeremy Pruitt and multiple players and coaches have tested positive for COVID-19, meaning the Vols will be unable to play in the Dec. 31 AutoZone Liberty Bowl against West Virginia, the school announced Monday.
Tennessee’s tests were conducted on Sunday per SEC protocol, and those results were returned on Monday morning after Tennessee had accepted the bowl invitation. Those players and staffers within Tennessee’s program who tested positive were retested on Monday to confirm the results. Tennessee also conducted a second round of testing for everybody in the football program on Monday to be sure. The combination of positive tests and subsequent contact tracing doesn’t leave Tennessee with enough players or coaches to participate in the bowl game.
“The student-athletes and staff affected are taking the appropriate safety measures in accordance with University, CDC and local health department guidelines,” the school said in a statement. “The University of Tennessee extends its sincere appreciation to the AutoZone Liberty Bowl and the city of Memphis and is disappointed it will not be able to fulfill its commitment on New Year’s Eve.”
The Vols lost 34-13 to Texas A&M on Saturday and ended the regular season with a 3-7 record. Assistant coaches Derrick Ansley and Jay Graham both missed Saturday’s game with COVID-19-related issues, sources told ESPN.
Tennessee is the first SEC team unable to play in a bowl game because of COVID-19 issues.
Sources told ESPN that the Liberty Bowl or Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl could potentially be a landing spot for Army. The latter would be an option especially if Mississippi State were to slide into Tennessee’s spot in the Liberty Bowl. Army went 9-2 but is not in a bowl game.