The return to play for the Pac-12 Conference may come sooner than expected.
The league announced Thursday it has an agreement with Quidel Corporation, a manufacturer of diagnostic healthcare products, to implement daily coronavirus testing for all student-athletes in close-contact sports that could allow sports to come back sooner.
The league postponed all athletic contests until Jan. 1 last month due to health concerns related to COVID-19.
Testing machines and related tests are expected to be available at all 12 schools by the end of the month. The ability to have rapid results and ensure contact tracing is a major advancement toward helping create a healthier environment.
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott called the access to a rapid, daily test "a game changer." Test results, with a high level of accuracy, could be turned in 15 minutes and ensure that practices and competitions could take place safely.
"This agreement is a major step in the safe return of sports competition in the Pac-12," Scott said.
The Pac-12 said it will review the impact of the testing advancements to determine whether its schedule for competition could be adjusted.
In its decision to halt all fall sports, the Pac-12 cited the need for improved testing procedures and also cited long-term heart concerns for those that test positive. Some studies have shown an increased risk of myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart, for some people who have battled the virus.
Dec 6, 2019; Santa Clara, CA, USA; General overall view of Pac-12 logo at midfield prior to the Pac-12 Conference championship game between the Oregon Ducks and the Utah Utes at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports (Photo: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)
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"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 opened the door to revisiting the Jan. 1 date for resumption of athletics. He noted that football in the fall would require at least six weeks of preparation before the start of any season.
One hurdle to overcome is in California and Oregon – where four member schools are located. Those states have restrictions on activities that would not allow for the start of football training camp.
The opportunity for college basketball has a better outlook. The planned start of the season in early November is being reconsidered by the NCAA. Should games begin on either proposed dates in late November or early December, the Pac-12 is now better positioned to meet that timeline with the new testing protocol.
"We will wait to see what the NCAA decides in terms of hopefully a later start date that allows us to participate," Scott said.
Any decision on playing, however, would be dictated by medical considerations for the athletes and community.
"We've gone about return to play in a measured and thoughtful way," Scott said. "We're going to let the data and the science drive us. We're going to have to have a high degree of confidence that by return to contact and returning to play we're not encouraging the spread."
Follow Erick Smith on Twitter @ericksmith
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