The Pac-12 has entered into an agreement with diagnostic healthcare manufacturer Quidel Corporation to implement daily rapid-results COVID-19 testing for close-contact sports across all of its campuses, the conference announced Thursday. Below, is Jon Wilner’s reaction to the momentous turn of events…
1. The return-to-play timing.
We don’t know when Pac-12 football teams will start training camp or competition. But clearly, the ability to test athletes on a daily basis starting in late September — thanks to the partnership with Quidel — would suggest a mid-November start is feasible.
If, of course, conditions on the front lines improve.
By that, we mean the local restrictions — particularly for the four California and two Oregon teams.
As of now, it seems unlikely the six schools could all receive clearance for full-contact, full-squad practices in a matter of weeks.
But by early October? Perhaps.
And if they can practice by early October, they can play in the middle of November.
Oh, and as we ponder the status of local health restrictions, it’s worth wondering:
Might the presence of daily, point-of-care tests for the schools impact the decisions made by county health officials?
After all, the NFL teams are practicing in L.A. and the Bay Area, and they have access to daily testing.
2. About those conference-only schedules …
Remember a few years ago — back in early July — when the Big Ten and Pac-12 announced they would play conference-only schedules in 2020?
The reasoning was sound: Keeping competition within the family allowed for greater control.
The health-and-safety protocols could be standardized throughout the week, with weekly opponents tested on the same days and the results reported to the conference office.
Additionally, the care and comfort levels would be sufficient for visiting players who got sick and couldn’t fly home.
Now, let’s envision a situation in which both the Big Ten and Pac-12 have all the access to point-of-care testing they need in October …
If the conferences are aligned on scheduling — Larry Scott said he’s in frequent communication with Kevin Warren about moving forward together — and if the conferences are aligned on testing protocols, why couldn’t each team schedule one game against a team from the other conference?
Why couldn’t Michigan visit Seattle and Ohio State visit Eugene, whether it’s in November, December or whenever the leagues decide to restart their seasons?
The health and safety conditions would be standardized — just as they were before the pandemic — and, clearly, the two commissioners and 26 presidents are in sync.
Why can’t the leagues open their revised schedules with 12 inter-conference matchups?
It would be a helluva restart.
3. Jobs, jobs, jobs.
One major benefit to the testing news is the potential impact on budget decisions across the athletic departments.
Maybe the looming layoffs and furloughs won’t unfold, after all — or will be less severe.
And the same goes for the 79 Pac-12 employees who are facing three-month furloughs. Maybe that timeframe gets cut to two months.
4. High marks at HQ
The Hotline maintains its position that the conference boxed itself in with the revised schedule, which forced the report by the medical advisors and a vote (by the presidents) in early August.
In other words, we don’t believe the Pac-12 did everything possible to buy as much time as possible — in case, you know, something unexpected happened.
That said, we’ll give the conference — including and especially Scott — high marks for the way it has handled every other facet of the pandemic, all the way back to mid-March.
Just contrast the Pac-12’s methodical, reasonable approach … with the uniform messaging, the presidents aligned, the coaches in line, and the release of the medical report … with the stumbling, bumbling Big Ten.
And exactly when we least expected it, Scott and Co. pulled a stunner with the Quidel partnership that changes the game.
5. The hoops piece.
Point-of-care tests are at least as significant for Pac-12 basketball as for football.
The conference believes six weeks are needed for players to properly prepare for competition.
If the schools have the necessary supply of Quidel tests by the end of September, as expected, it’s easy to envision the basketball regular season starting by early December.
Scott has already indicated the presidents would reconsider the Jan. 1 restart date if the testing resources were in place and the community spread was at the proper level.
6. Heart of the issue.
Myocarditis, the inflammation of the heart muscle sometimes seen in COVID-19 patients, was not the primary reason for the Pac-12’s decision to postpone the football season.
It was one component to the equation.
Would lingering concerns over myocarditis prevent the conference from restarting football if the testing capacity and local conditions were sufficient for a return-to-play?
It doesn’t appear so.
Two key medical voices for the conference, Dr. Kim Harmon of Washington and Dr. Doug Aukerman of Oregon State, indicated Thursday that concerns over myocarditis wouldn’t alone stop the football restart.
7. How little is too little?
We’ll leave you with this:
If local conditions allow the Pac-12 football to start the season in November, to what extent should the conference — and perhaps the Big Ten, as well — craft a schedule that would allow its champion to be available for the College Football Playoff?
In other words: Should the conference consider an eight-game schedule and aim to finish in lockstep with the SEC, ACC and Big 12?
(Eight games isn’t much, admittedly, but there’s no guarantee the leagues will play more than eight or nine.)
Or should the Pac-12 disregard the CFP and attempt to play a fuller schedule … 10 or 12 games … and then finish against the Big Ten in a late-January Rose Bowl?
We don’t know the answer, and it might never reach the point that the conference can take a serious look at the issue.
But after today’s news, it’s now a possibility.