Gauging Apple Cup’s chances? Listen to what’s not being said

Washington State players huddle up before doing position drills before the start of a Nov. 14 Pac-12 Conference game against Oregon at Martin Stadium.

For football fans trying to calculate the odds of an Apple Cup happening this week amid a coronavirus outbreak at Washington State, the primary source of data is the picture painted by WSU athletic director Pat Chun in a news conference Friday.

But they should also consider how vague that picture was.

Clearly, the Cougars’ primary goal this week is to welcome back enough healthy bodies to reach the 53-player scholarship minimum the Pac-12 has suggested for games to go forward during this pandemic-shortened season.

If successful at that, the Cougs expect to play arch-rival Washington as scheduled at 7:30 p.m. this coming Friday (ESPN) in Pullman.

But exactly how far below the threshold are they? That’s one thing Chun didn’t say. All we know is that nine WSU players were sent into COVID-19 protocol between Monday and Friday.

That includes four on Friday morning, which pushed the Cougars below 53 and prompted the Pac-12 to cancel their game at Stanford on Saturday.

Are the Cougars at 52 or 49? That could make a difference when it comes to the fate of the Apple Cup.

Another thing Chun didn’t specify was the number of players who’ve tested positive for the virus, as opposed to those who entered protocol through contact tracing. The Pac-12 referred to “a number” of positive tests. That could be anywhere between 2 and 9.

This is another significant part of the Apple Cup metric, because players who have tested positive must quarantine for 10 days and the others — because of the uncertainty about when and if they were infected — must quarantine for 14.

The Apple Cup, as scheduled, is 11 days after the first WSU players were sent into protocol. So some of them might be cleared in time and others not. Chun didn’t rule out the possibility of moving the game to next Saturday, Nov. 29 or some other time.

Of the nine shelved players, only one has been identified (not by the school, of course): starting quarterback Jayden de Laura, who reportedly tested positive. But when? That’s another fact we don’t know. It apparently was sometime between Monday and Thursday.

Chun, like football coach Nick Rolovich before him, also declined to say how many players have opted out this season because of concerns about the virus.

If it’s a large number, the Apple Cup has less chance of happening, because the opt-outs are one of the reasons Wazzu fell below the 53-player minimum. So are injuries. But injuries heal, whereas opt-outs simply are out of the picture.

Several of these unanswered questions augur poorly for the Apple Cup’s chances. But there’s another that leans the other direction.

Twice during the news conference, Chun declined to say (or didn’t know) if the Cougars had met the Pac-12’s three position minimums — one quarterback, seven offensive linemen and four interior defensive linemen. He kept returning to the overall 53 figure.

Technically, the position minimums are the more binding. According to the Pac-12 policy, teams with fewer than 53 players can choose to play anyway, but only if they meet the position thresholds.

Even for the Stanford game, the Cougars might have had the option of playing. Chun gave the impression it wasn’t a viable option because of how recently the team had learned of the positive tests and protocols — in other words, how much contact tracing still needed to be done.

If the Cougars don’t draw more positive tests in the next few days — a big if — they might have a clearer picture in front of them this week, even if they fail to nudge their roster numbers back to 53.

Grummert may be daleg@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2290.

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