This story was updated on July 16, 2020, at 6:15 p.m. to correct the number of UTC student-athletes known to have tested positive for the coronavirus after an earlier version stated that four had tested positive, and again at 9:30 p.m. to remove a reference to North Alabama being a Division II program. The Lions are members of D-I's Football Championship Subdivision.
At least three University of Tennessee at Chattanooga student-athletes have tested positive for the coronavirus.
Jay Blackman, UTC's senior associate athletic director for strategic communications, confirmed the results to the Times Free Press on Thursday.
Athletes were tested before leaving campus in June with only one positive result, but that athlete, a football player, has recovered. Athletes returned to campus last week and were tested and immediately quarantined. Those results are still being processed but so far have included two positives, one for a football player and the other for a wrestler.
Blackman said that none of the athletes who tested positive have displayed symptoms for COVID-19, the disease that results from the novel coronavirus. UTC athletes who test positive are isolated for 14 days and moved to a different dorm, then tested again to determine the next step.
Roommates of the athletes who tested positive all tested negative.
"We're going to have to deal with whatever we have to deal with," UTC football coach Rusty Wright said Wednesday, when he was a guest of "Press Row" on Chattanooga's ESPN 105.1 FM. "At some point, everybody is going to have to deal with this, and it is what it is. You can't lose sleep over it, because it's going to happen."
The NCAA recently approved a preseason model for football that would allow walk-through drills to begin July 24 and official preseason practices to start Aug. 7, assuming a team's first game is Sept. 5. With the Mocs' season opener on Sept. 3 (a Thursday night game at Football Bowl Subdivision member Western Kentucky, a game that comes with a $350,000 payout for UTC), they will begin practice a day or two earlier than most teams.
The second game on UTC's 2020 schedule is Sept. 12 against fellow Football Championship Subdivision program James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. A week later, the Mocs will be at Finley Stadium for their home opener against North Alabama, the final date on the schedule outside of league play before kicking off their eight-game Southern Conference Schedule with a Sept. 26 home game against Virginia Military Institute.
However, with three other FCS leagues having canceled fall sports as of Thursday afternoon — the Ivy League, Patriot League and Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference — and some FBS leagues having elected to play only conference games this season, there are obviously questions about what the Mocs' football schedule might wind up looking like during the pandemic.
As of now, though, there is no alternate plan.
"There's a whole lot of things happening behind the scenes, but as of now we're planning on playing," Blackman told the Times Free Press earlier this week. "There's been a lot of discussion across the league, and the league wants to play."
The SoCon's football membership is made up of two teams from Tennessee (UTC and East Tennessee State University); three from South Carolina (Furman, The Citadel and Wofford); and one each from Alabama (Samford), Georgia (Mercer) North Carolina (Western Carolina) and Virginia (VMI). With six state governments' regulations, orders and mandates to consider, all the league can do is try to put together the best possible plan and see how it works.
Whether fans will able to attend games remains to be seen.
Blackman said UTC's athletic department has been working with Finley Stadium representatives to put together a plan that will include limited capacity and physical distancing in the stands, but added that they're "not ready to put those plans out to the public yet."
"There's not a whole lot of resistance," Blackman said. "I think the question now is: How do we do that safely and with some kind of fan experience? We have to go through all levels of approval through the city and make sure that we have a plan."