LSU Auburn Football

LSU quarterback TJ Finley (11) throws a pass during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against Auburn on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

LSU's Saturday football game against Alabama will be postponed because of a coronavirus outbreak on the Tigers football team, the Southeastern Conference announced Tuesday afternoon.

The LSU football team dipped below the SEC's 53-man roster requirement, LSU athletic director Scott Woodward said in a statement, after a small number of players tested positive for COVID-19 last week, forcing several others into mandatory 14-day quarantine.

"We are disappointed there will be no football in Tiger Stadium this weekend, but we will always prioritize the health and wellness of our student-athletes," Woodward said. "We will continue to follow the league's protocols in order to safely and responsibly return to play."

This is the second time this season an LSU game has been delayed because of coronavirus. LSU's game against Florida was postponed to Dec. 12 because of an outbreak within the Gators program, and, because that game takes up the weekend the SEC set aside for such postponements, it is unlikely LSU-Alabama will be played at all this year.

The LSU athletic department said in a news release that an opportunity to reschedule the game "will need to be evaluated" and "may include" Dec. 19 as a playing date.

Postponing the LSU-Alabama game for that date will be difficult. It is the same day as the SEC championship game, and, with Alabama leading the West Division, it is unlikely that date will be available for the Crimson Tide.

The league could still possibly rearrange the dates of other games to make room for LSU-Alabama. It is one of the league’s hallmark matchups every season — a rivalry that has gone uninterrupted since 1963 — and CBS earmarked this year’s game for its prime-time broadcast Saturday evening after the third round of The Masters.

But with half of the season already played, there were few options for rearrangement. LSU and Alabama both are coming off their only scheduled open date, and it wasn't feasible to shuffle their remaining three games in a way that didn't disrupt the rest of the league.

“We don’t have an infinite amount of time to make up games,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey told ESPN's Paul Finebaum on Monday.

The news comes a day after LSU coach Ed Orgeron told reporters he was informed last week that some football players tested positive for COVID-19. Orgeron did not go into detail about how many and which players were involved, but he said there is a “high” number of players going into quarantine, including starters, and hinted the quarterback position was involved.

True freshman TJ Finley is LSU’s only scholarship quarterback available for the Alabama game, a source confirmed to The Advocate, and the Tigers also do not have any scholarship tight ends available. The wide receiver position is also among those affected.

Orgeron only said LSU was "very thin" at quarterback. Starter Myles Brennan had been ruled out for the Alabama game, and Orgeron added that there have been discussions about shutting down Brennan for the season after missing two games in a struggle to recover from an abdominal injury he suffered against Missouri.

Orgeron said creating options at quarterback would have been "challenging" with the players available.

The ultimate question remained whether LSU would dip below the SEC’s 53-player threshold when contact tracing produced the final tally. Teams that don’t meet the league’s player limit still have the option to play, pending approval by the league, but teams must also have at least seven scholarship offensive linemen, one quarterback and four defensive linemen.

Multiple reports said defensive backs and long snappers are also among those who either tested positive or are quarantining.

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The SEC, which experienced its first coronavirus setbacks in October, is now running into its second wave of problems.

The league also announced Tuesday that Texas A&M's game at Tennessee this Saturday will be postponed because of positive tests, contact tracing and subsequent quarantine within the Texas A&M program.

Missouri is also dealing with a coronavirus outbreak, and its game against Georgia is in jeopardy. Kentucky's game against Vanderbilt is looking more stable in the days since Wildcats coach Mark Stoops said Monday that his team is dealing with COVID-19 issues. 

A dizzying week continues to spin out of control. Already, Mississippi State's COVID-19 outbreak forced the postponement of its game against Auburn, and Arkansas announced head coach Sam Pittman tested positive for the virus and that defensive coordinator Barry Odom, a former Missouri head coach, will take over this weekend against Florida while Pittman recovers.

LSU is scheduled to play at Arkansas on Nov. 21, and uncertainty even clouds that game. Will Pittman return in time? Will there be too many LSU players in 14-day quarantine, keeping the team below its roster requirements?

Pittman is reportedly asymptomatic, and, according to the SEC's Medical Guidance Task Force's updated recommendations, asymptomatic individuals who test positive for COVID-19 can return to athletic activities if they test negative in three successive PCR tests over a 72-hour period.

Players who are quarantined because of high-risk contact cannot test out of their mandatory 14-day quarantine period.

LSU, like several NCAA teams this season, has already run into logistical football problems with coronavirus and its league's protocols.

Orgeron told reporters during preseason camp he thought most, not all, of the football team's players had caught coronavirus already.

The update came after a rocky offseason in which the program dealt with an initial spike of COVID-19 cases earlier this summer — a case that focused around a group of five to six players, a source told The Advocate in June, after players attended bars in Tigerland.

Then, in LSU's second week of preseason camp, all but four offensive linemen were in quarantine after they either tested positive for COVID-19 or were determined to have high-risk exposure.

"I think most, not all of our players, but most of our players have caught it," Orgeron said in September. "So hopefully they won't catch it again, and hopefully they're not out for games."

Against No. 1 Alabama, LSU will reportedly be the biggest underdog it's been in two decades

LSU's roster has taken multiple hits from other factors since the season began, and each loss of a player counts toward the SEC's 53-player roster requirement.

At the start of the year, quarterback Peter Parrish was suspended indefinitely and eventually transferred to Memphis. Linebacker Marcel Brooks transferred to TCU. Three starters elected to opt out before the season began: star wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase, nose tackle Tyler Shelvin and nickel safety Kary Vincent. Defensive tackle Siaki "Apu" Ika entered the transfer portal two weeks ago, and days later, linebacker/defensive end Travez Moore announced he was also opting out.

Orgeron said this year has been difficult to navigate. Roster management in a volatile climate has been "fluid" during a tumultuous and unpredictable season, and yet another game has been affected.

"We're worried about the guys that are sick and their safety," Orgeron said Monday. "There's no question."

Email Brooks Kubena at bkubena@theadvocate.com.