Wisconsin football and COVID-19: How Graham Mertz’s test could impact Badgers schedule, Big Ten season

Wisconsin won its season opener with a 45-7 victory against Illinois, including an impressive debut from quarterback Graham Mertz.  

Mertz’s status for Saturday’s game against Nebraska, however, is in doubt. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports Mertz tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday, according to two sources. ESPN reports that Wisconsin is waiting for a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test to confirm that result.

Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst declined to comment on the quarterback situation on a Zoom call Monday. Backup quarterback Chase Wolf also was not at practice. The Journal-Sentinel reported Wolf also tested positive for COVID-19 this week. As a result, the Badgers are the first team that will test the Big Ten’s strict COVID-19 protocols depending on what transpires from here until Saturday.  

Here is what we know about the situation:  

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Wisconsin’s QB situation

Mertz’s potential absence would have a huge impact considering his debut against the Illini. Mertz hit 20 of 21 passes for 248 yards, five TDs and no interceptions. The Badgers already lost starting quarterback Jack Coan to a season-ending injury before the season started. If Mertz and Wolf cannot play, then that would leave the team with one scholarship quarterback on the roster.  

Danny Vanden Boom, a redshirt junior, likely would get the start against the Huskers. Vanden Boom played in three games in mop-up duty in the 2018 season. He has one career passing attempt, which was a three-yard TD. 

What is the Big Ten’s COVID-19 policy?

The Big Ten instituted strict COVID-19 testing protocols when it reversed its decision to cancel the season on Sept. 29. It requires student-athletes, trainers, coaches and any other individuals on the field for practices and games to undergo daily antigen testing.  

Wisconsin does not release test results of individual student-athletes because of medical privacy. 

Here is where the Big Ten policy is different. The earliest a student-athlete can return to game competition after a positive COVID-19 test is 21 days. The Big Ten also monitors each school’s positivity rate on a seven-day rolling average to determine whether practice or game play can continue for that team.   

Wisconsin football schedule implications

Wisconsin was a preseason favorite to win the Big Ten West division, and the Badgers are ranked No. 9 in the latest AP Poll.  

The Big Ten does not have bye weeks as part of its eight-week regular-season schedule, and that could shake up the Badgers’ season. Wisconsin’s next three games are against  

The next three games on the schedule are at Nebraska, at home against Purdue and at No. 13 Michigan. That’s a tough stretch.  

What’s next?  

Wisconsin will wait for Mertz’s PCR test and monitor the testing average over the next few days, but Chryst said in his Zoom call on Monday that he was confident the Badgers would play against the Huskers on Saturday.  

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