Daily COVID testing was key to Pac-12 return to football

“Significant.”

That was the quick, to-the-point response from Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott during a media interview yesterday, when he was asked what kind of impact was felt when the Big 10 Conference announced it was going to resume fall play.  That decision left the Pac-12 as the only Power Five conference still on the sidelines.

“At the end of the day, our challenges were unique,” Scott added in an attempt to explain why the Pac-12 was late to the party.

Perhaps most significant among those challenges was the fact that half of the teams in the Pac-12 would have been at a disadvantage in starting the season any earlier.  Both Oregon and California, which account for six teams, still had local and state restrictions in place to guard against the spread of the coronavirus.

Scott wanted to make sure that all teams in the conference had a full six weeks to “ramp up” for the start of the season.

The turning point came in the first week of September when the Pac-12 teamed up with a California diagnostic testing company, Quidel, that would enable the schools across the conference to begin conducting daily antigen tests on the players.  That was the key to a renewed confidence for a safe return to the field.

Exactly three weeks later, on Sept. 24, the conference announced it was back in the game and football, basketball, and winter sports will resume.

The decision to resume play was also aided by the fact that a majority of communities across the Pac-12 footprint have shown “continued improvement” in reducing the spread of the virus.

Pac-12 football will begin a seven-game schedule on Nov. 6, while men’s and women’s basketball will have a Nov. 25 start.  Schedules for the other winter sports will be consistent with the NCAA season dates for those sports.

Unfortunately, fans will not be permitted at any sporting competition taking place on the Pac-12 campuses, but that decision will be revisited in January, with any modifications based on health and safety considerations at the time.

Despite the disappointing ban on spectators, University of Arizona President Robert Robbins pointed out that “this step will provide a much-needed morale boost for the Arizona community and our fans around the nation, and it will give our student population an experience that many of them look forward to when they choose to attend the University of Arizona.”

Thursday’s Pac-12 announcement of the resumption of sports also included more detailed information regarding ongoing procedures designed to protect the health of the athletes.

In addition to the daily antigen testing, there will be weekly PCR tests administered to each player.  The polymerase chain reaction test uses fluid from a nasal or throat swab, or saliva.   Cardiac monitoring protocols have also been implemented, to be administered to any player testing positive for the virus.

“From the beginning of this crisis, our focus has been on following the science, data, and counsel of our public health and infectious-disease experts,” explained Scott.  “Our agreement with Quidel to provide daily rapid-results testing has been a game-changer in enabling us to move forward with confidence that we can create a safe environment for our student-athletes, while giving them the opportunity to pursue their dreams.

“At the same time, we will continue to monitor health conditions and data, and be ready to adjust as required in the name of the health of all.”