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New Pac-12 Testing Deal Does Not Mean Sports Resume Immediately

September 3, 2020
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The Pac-12 agreement with diagnostic company Quidel Corporation would enable the conference to do daily COVID-19 testing of all its athletes in so-called “close contact sports”, with results available almost immediately.

That is a huge step forward toward re-opening competition in the major activities of football and basketball. But nothing is likely to happen right away.

“Even if we were ready to start tomorrow, we couldn't," Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said in a virtual news conference shortly after the contract was announced Thursday,.  "We've always thought about return to play in a very measured and thoughtful way. ... This is a very important and significant step, but there are other considerations that will go into our return to play."

Last month the conference announced all sports would be suspended until at least the end of 2020. That was before the new agreement was even a consideration. 

The new testing machines are expected to be delivered by the end of this month. Once testing begins, results could be available in as little as 15 minutes. That would obviously increase the medical staff’s ability to monitor the spread of the virus. It would also greatly simplify contact tracing. None of that was in the picture when the decision to postpone all sports was made.

“This is a major step toward the safe resumption of Pac-12 sport competition," Scott said in a release. "The availability of a reliable test that can be administered daily, with almost immediate results, addresses one of the key concerns that was expressed by our medical advisory committee, as well as by student-athletes, coaches and others. 

“At the same time, our partnership with Quidel, the industry leader in point-of-care antigen testing, will provide crucial research data that will benefit our members' communities as well as the entire country.”

That said, Scott is far from ready to throw open the doors for sports to resume. There still some significant obstacles to resuming sports, particularly  football. For one thing, the states of California and Oregon have protocols in place that limit practices to small groups who maintain social distance. That means the four California schools along with Oregon and Oregon State could not go full-tilt on the practice field, even if they had clearance from the conference. Scott knows as much.

“No doubt today is very good news and a major step forward. But hope has never been a strategy for the Pac-12 and our presidents and chancellors when they’ve made these decisions,” he said. “We’ve said all along we’re going to let the science and the data and what our public health officials are telling us drive our decision-making. And when we made our decision, we didn’t have the government approval that we needed.”

Basketball also figures into the equation. The NCAA's women's basketball oversight committee and men's basketball oversight committee jointly agreed on Tuesday to propose Nov. 25 as the start date for the 2020-21 college season, according to CBS Sports. 

That is later than an earlier proposed date, but still would fly in the face of the Pac-12’s current position of no sports until January. The testing breakthrough could possibly enable the conference to make the Nov. 25 date, but just whom would the opposition be? November and December are generally reserved for non-conference games. Would a Pac-12 team whose players have been tested multiple times, including presumably the day before the game, be willing to go shoulder to shoulder against a group that has not been tested so thoroughly?

Scott said the league is aware of that issue and has no answer yet. “We haven’t worked through details,” he said. “I certainly could not imagine going through this expense to protect the health and well-being of our student-athletes and look ourselves in the eye, our student-athletes in the eye, our coaches in the eye, our parents in the eye. Imagine having to look everyone in the eye and say with a high degree of confidence that the COVID is not going to be spread through the practice activity or the game activity and then having a lower standard for non-conference games. 

“If we were going to be comfortable with non-conference games we are going to have to hold our opposing team to the same standard. I am going to have some more conversations with Doug (Bryant, Quidel’s president and CEO) and see what their availability is and see if it is going to be possible to supply this rapid result point of testing to a Pac-12 opponent. That is a bridge we just haven’t crossed yet.”

Bryant said he has not had discussions with other leagues about the technology at this time. "Within the last month, we have doubled our shipping capacity," Bryant said. "As we continue to ramp up production, we will have the ability to help other conferences if asked."

Scott said his conference would share findings with peer conferences and NCAA. He would not reveal the details of the financial arrangement with Quidel. 

There is no question that whatever the price, the Pac-12 feels it made a good deal. 

"We felt like it was critical we have consistent point-of-care access to be able to move forward with contact athletics in a safe manner," Dr. Doug Aukerman, Oregon State's athletic director for sports medicine and head of the Pac-12's medical advisory committee, said. "Having the opportunity and ability to identify and immediately remove someone who has the potential to be infected prior to stepping on the practice field really reduces the risk and removes the gap that currently exists with traditional laboratory testing."

Scott said he has been in close touch with his Big 10 counterpart Kevin Warren. Both men have voiced the possibility of the two Power 5 conferences not playing this fall, could coordinate winter/spring football to allow for some interconference games. 

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Pac-12 agreement with diagnostic firm will permit daily testing

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New Pac-12 Testing Deal Does Not Mean Sports Resume Immediately

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