After a promising 2019 season, 2020 did not go according to plan for the Tennessee Volunteers.
The final nail in the coffin came on Monday as Tennessee withdrew from its Liberty Bowl matchup against West Virginia on Dec. 31 after head coach Jeremy Pruitt and several UT players tested positive for COVID-19. Tennessee suspended all team activities as well.
"Test results revealed an increase in positive cases among student-athletes and staff and subsequent contact tracing," the university said in a statement. "The decision was made in consultation with health officials, the Southeastern Conference and the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.
"The student-athletes and staff affected are taking the appropriate safety measures in accordance with University, (CDC), and local health department guidelines. 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."
Tennessee went 3-7 with wins over South Carolina, Missouri and Vanderbilt. They lost six straight games from Oct. 10 to Dec. 5. The Volunteers are the first SEC team to forgo a bowl game this year. As a result of Tennessee’s COVID outbreak, Army will replace the Vols against the Mountaineers.
It was reported that upward of 20 players tested positive on Sunday. Pruitt released a statement saying he was experiencing mild symptoms but was otherwise doing fine. Pruitt is the third prominent sports figure at UT to test positive for COVID after Athletic Director Phillip Fulmer and men’s basketball coach Rick Barnes also contracted the coronavirus last month.
"Earlier today, I was informed by our medical staff that I have tested positive for COVID-19, and I immediately began isolating at home," Pruitt said. “We are obviously disappointed that we will not be able to play in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, but the health and safety of our student-athletes will always remain our top priority. I am especially proud of our team and medical staff in safely navigating through a unique season where we played all 10 of our regular-season games."
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