Wisconsin's football team has paused all team-related activities for at least seven days because of an increased number of COVID-19 cases, causing the No. 9 Badgers' game against Nebraska on Saturday to be canceled.
The game will not be rescheduled.
As of Wednesday morning, 12 people within the program had tested positive for the coronavirus in the past five days. That total includes six student-athletes and six staff members, including head coach Paul Chryst.
"This morning I received the news that I had tested positive via a PCR test I took yesterday," Chryst said in a statement released by the university on Wednesday. "I informed my staff and the team this morning and am currently isolating at home. I had not been experiencing any symptoms and feel good as of this morning.
"I am disappointed for our players and coaching staff who put so much into preparing to play each week. But the safety of everyone in our program has to be our top priority and I support the decision made to pause our team activities."
Even though Wisconsin did not reach the Big Ten "red/red" level with its team and population positivity rates that automatically triggers a seven-day pause in team activities, the decision to pause was made jointly by athletic director Barry Alvarez and chancellor Rebecca Blank after the recent rise in positive tests.
"Our first month of testing and practice, we had one positive [prior to this past Saturday's game]," Alvarez said Wednesday. "... Since the game, we've had 12 positive tests. We just felt with the number of positives in that short a timeline, the chancellor and I felt, 'We have an issue.' We need to get our arms around this and control the COVID virus now before it got out of hand."
Big Ten protocol states that teams that reach the "orange/red" area of testing may "consider viability of continuing with scheduled competition."
Big Ten athletic directors unanimously voted that if a school determines it cannot play because of test positivity rates within the team population, the game will be declared a no contest, not a forfeit. And if those rates are outside of the "red/red" category, a school's president or chancellor, athletic director and other leaders may work with medical and public health authorities -- in addition to the Big Ten office -- to determine whether a game should be canceled or any other adjustments.
Alvarez and Chryst both were unable to say when the seven-day pause will expire. Players who have tested positive will be quarantining in hotel rooms for the next 10 days.
Wisconsin is scheduled to host Purdue on Nov. 7.
"The most important thing right now is to quarantine our players and get this under control," Alvarez said. "We'll make that decision about playing the next game when that time comes."
Chryst said he needs to get better at working on keeping his mask over his nose, and he wore a mask and a face shield at Tuesday's practice. He said there were to-go meals with spaced-out seating before Friday's game, but he doesn't know where it was "ground zero or where it really started."
"Every day you're trying to look at what is it we can do to try to be doing this better, to mitigate it," Chryst said. "Certainly, and I don't profess to be an expert on this, but this is one part of this virus, it gets you in a number of different ways. We don't know [if] we have one superspreader? I don't know that, but you're always going to look at how can we better and what do we need to do?"
Alvarez informed Nebraska athletic director Bill Moos early Wednesday of the decision and said Moos was "very understanding" and "professional," yet understandably disappointed with what happened.
Alvarez and deputy athletic director Chris McIntosh took COVID-19 tests earlier Wednesday and expect to get their results Thursday. Wisconsin's administrators tested negative last week.
Mertz, who starred in Wisconsin's season-opening win over Illinois on Friday, had an antigen test come back positive for the coronavirus over the weekend. He had a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test that confirmed the result Monday.
Big Ten policy requires any player who tests positive for COVID-19 to miss at least 21 days and undergo cardiac screening before being cleared to return.
Based on the timing of Mertz's first positive test, he would be eligible to return for Wisconsin's game at Michigan on Nov. 14, a source told ESPN.
Third-string quarterback Chase Wolf also tested positive, according to sources, confirming a report by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. If Wolf's positive test was confirmed, he also would miss a minimum of 21 days before returning to action.
An Illinois spokesperson said he's not aware of any positive tests for the Illini as of Wednesday morning
The Big Ten requires teams to play at least six games to qualify for the division championship, unless the average number of games by all league teams drops below six. In that case, teams must play no less than two fewer games than the average number by all teams to be considered for the division championship.
ESPN's Adam Rittenberg and Heather Dinich contributed to this report.