UNT-UTEP postponed

North Texas announced on Tuesday night that its game at UTEP on Saturday has been postponed due to surging cases of COVID-19 in El Paso.

North Texas’ game at UTEP that was scheduled for Saturday in El Paso has been postponed.

UNT made the announcement on Tuesday night. The school cited a surge in coronavirus cases in El Paso when announcing its decision.

El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego on Sunday night issued a stay home order with a curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. daily.

“We are disappointed to have our first postponement of a Conference USA game, but the health and safety of our student-athletes, staff and coaches is our number one priority,” UNT president Neal Smatresk said in a statement. “We send our best wishes to the entire El Paso community as they face the challenge of dealing with the latest outbreak.”

UTEP announced earlier Tuesday that the school would not allow fans at the Sun Bowl for the game. The school issued an announcement that the game had been postponed shortly after UNT.

“We are disappointed that North Texas has chosen not to come to El Paso for the football game this weekend,” UTEP president Heather Wilson said in a statement. “We have a safe place to play and no players who are sick or in isolation, and North Texas has not indicated that any of their players are ill. We made the decision earlier today not to allow fans in the stadium.

“We are proud of the diligence that our student-athletes, coaches and staff have shown to put us in a position to play every week. We look forward to further discussions with Conference USA and North Texas on whether or when this game will be rescheduled.”

A UNT official told the Denton Record-Chronicle on Tuesday night that the school’s administration believed sending coaches and players to El Paso posed too big of a risk, both to those who would have made the trip and the campus community upon their return.

A UNT source said the school offered to pay for UTEP to travel to Denton and play the game at Apogee Stadium. UTEP declined the offer in the hope the game could be rescheduled in El Paso.

UNT said it is working with UTEP to reschedule the game in conjunction with C-USA.

North Texas’ game against UTEP is the third it has lost due to the pandemic. UNT was scheduled to travel to Texas A&M on Sept. 12 and Houston on Sept. 26.

UNT lost its game at A&M when the SEC went to a 10-game, conference-only schedule. The Mean Green’s game at Houston was called off due to a series of coronavirus infections at UNT. Those infections made it impossible for UNT to play that weekend.

The Mean Green have not played since rallying for a 52-35 win at Middle Tennessee on Oct. 17. UNT had a scheduled bye last weekend and is next slated to play when it hosts Louisiana Tech on Nov. 7 at Apogee Stadium.

UNT is 2-3 on the season, including a 1-2 mark in C-USA. The Mean Green have four games scheduled the remainder of the season at this point.

Seeing a third football game impacted by the pandemic is a tough blow for UNT, which is among a host of programs nationally that have been hit hard by the spread of the virus.

The school’s men’s basketball team won the regular season C-USA title and was guaranteed a berth in the NIT, if the Mean Green didn’t win the league’s postseason tournament, and an automatic NCAA tournament bid. UNT was the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament that was called off after first-round games, before UNT had a chance to play, due to the pandemic.

The NCAA tournament and the NIT were also canceled.

School officials have worked to contain the coronavirus on UNT’s campus since its football players, coaches and administrative officials began returning to campus in June.

The school instituted a testing program and social distancing measures to hold down infections in the hope that its football team could play a full season. UNT coach Seth Littrell has praised the school’s efforts since this summer.

UNT had three active coronavirus infections across its entire athletics department as of Monday, a school source told the Record-Chronicle. Only one of the people who tested positive is an athlete.

UNT thought that a successful round of testing would put its football team in position to travel to face UTEP on Saturday.

The rising case count in El Paso caused North Texas to change course and call off its game against UTEP a short time later, slicing another game off UNT’s dwindling schedule.

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.

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