The Pac-12 announced Thursday that it plans to implement daily COVID-19 testing for student-athletes in “close-contact sports” by using testing machines that are expected to be delivered to campuses by the end of September. A statement from the league said the Pac-12 will review the testing breakthrough with its sport planning committees and evaluate “the impact on return to competition scenarios.”
That would seem to open the door for the possibility of the league returning to play earlier than originally expected. Last month, the Pac-12 announced that all competition — including football and basketball — would be suspended until at least the beginning of 2021.
One Pac-12 source told CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd that it would be a “huge hurdle” for the league to pull off a fall 2020 football season given the parameters set forth by the league’s medical advisory group.
“Even if we were ready to start tomorrow, we couldn’t,” Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said. “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.”
There are six schools due to local health conditions that cannot even practice.
Scott said that it did not believe rapid tests like these would be available until late November when it decided to postpone the 2020 season in mid-August, one week before football training camp was set to begin. The Pac-12 hopes to begin playing sports around Jan. 1, 2021.
When the tests are fully online, the Pac-12 will be able to determine if point-of-care testing “prior to practice or competition can decrease or eliminate risk of infection.” That alone would significantly reduce the threat of the coronavirus. Those testing positive could be promptly separated and quarantined slowing the spread.
It would also calm of the nerves of players and coaches. Several Pac-12 schools are unable to practice because of local health conditions. Scott said the Pac-12’s new COVID-19 tests will yield results within 15 minutes.
“This is a major step toward the safe resumption of Pac-12 sport competitions,” 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.”
The partnership with Quidel provides for daily testing with rapid results. Testing frequency and protocol had been a major factor in the Pac-12 postponing the 2020 season.
Quidel CEO Doug Bryant 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.
Daily testing for COVID-19 would be the first of its kind in college athletics. The three Power Five conferences playing this fall have announced they will test three times per week during the season with two PCR tests and one rapid test as late as the day before games.
The league noted in its announcement that its testing partnership will “significantly” decrease the risk of student-athletes spreading COVID-19 and noted that it will “reduce the potential burden on local health authorities to carry out widespread contact tracing.”
Quidel’s Sofia 2 testing machines will be delivered to Pac-12 schools by the end of September.