FARGO — The Dakota Marker will have to wait. The South Dakota State and North Dakota State football game scheduled for Saturday, April 3, was postponed to April 17 because of COVID-19 test results and contact tracing in the NDSU program.
It will be the second straight idle Saturday for both teams, with NDSU's game at the University of South Dakota last Saturday canceled because of positive tests with the Bison. SDSU did not play Illinois State last Saturday after the Redbirds opted out of the spring season.
NDSU's players and coaches tested on Monday, but the results were not known until Tuesday. The tests were conducted with NDSU's Tier 1 personnel, which consists of players, coaches, managers and staff. NDSU athletic director Matt Larsen did not want to get into specifics as to the number of positive tests and what position groups were affected.
Last week, NDSU had three players test positive on Wednesday and one on Saturday morning. Most likely, the situation escalated from there.
"I can tell you this, we had at least one more," Larsen said.
It's all been part of a weekly routine that hasn't been easy on anybody.
"It's tough, it's up in the air, with COVID you can be asymptomatic and not have any idea until you get the test results back," said Bison cornerback Josh Hayes, talking to media on Tuesday before the SDSU game was postponed. "It's tough. It's an anxious moment, it's something we're getting used to but definitely is not fun at all."
This week's Bison football game has been rescheduled for April 17 due to COVID-19 protocols. Tickets purchased for the April 3 game will be valid on April 17. pic.twitter.com/RufcdYpES6— NDSU Football (@NDSUfootball) March 30, 2021
Hayes said the best way to deal with it for him is to stay busy and try not to think about it. NDSU found out about the USD cancellation just a few minutes before the Bison were to depart from a hotel in Sioux Falls, S.D., to USD's DakotaDome about an hour away in Vermillion.
"Stay focused on the game plan just as I would if I weren't sick or possibly sick," Hayes said. "It's a lot of uncertainty in the air, so trying to feel it out and see what's going to happen. It's definitely been stressful trying to stay locked in and stay engaged in football when there are so many other issues going on."
Those issues have fallen on the shoulders of the older players, Hayes said.
"I've had to step into more of a guidance counselor role," he said. "There are a lot of young guys on our team right now, and that's one of the things I struggled with the most, was staying focused on smaller things and not getting caught up with what's going on with the outside world. I've had to try to help a few young guys in this building and this program."
Larsen said the postponement has not deterred NDSU's intent to play the season out. He said the players want to play and so far, only one game has been lost.
"A lot of people want to scrap the season but that's not certainly our mindset," Larsen said. "It hasn't been our mindset from Day 1. Our full intent is to play the last two games."
NDSU travels to Northern Iowa on April 10 before the rescheduled Jackrabbits game.
Tickets purchased for Saturday's game will be valid on April 17, which was set as the makeup date for Valley games when the spring schedule was originally constructed, and will now have two other games besides NDSU and SDSU: Western Illinois at South Dakota and North Dakota at Youngstown State.
NDSU is expected to begin vaccinating its players this week. Bison head coach Matt Entz said Monday information was to be given to the team on when and where that could happen.
"I've had a fair number of players ask me what I thought," Entz said. "That's a mom and dad situation, but I said when I recruited them that I would be there and I'll give them the best information that I can."
The last two weeks have been NDSU's first problems with the coronavirus since last summer when an unspecified number of players tested positive.
The Jackrabbits, meanwhile, have gotten through the Missouri Valley season so far unscathed. SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier said Tuesday that his team has not had a positive test in at least eight weeks.