• Editor’s note: There are more questions than answers regarding when, and how, college football will begin again. Each week until next season, The Transcript will produce its Watch List to monitor developments, setbacks or points of interest surrounding college football’s anticipated return.
NORMAN — Oklahoma football players and staff will take a COVID-19 test before beginning voluntary workouts. How frequently testing will occur after that is unclear.
The rising optimism about college football being able to hold a 2020 season does not answer unknowns about a virus experts have struggled to come to a consensus on — frequency of testing, types of tests and their limitations are all factors.
OU athletic director Joe Castiglione said this week he doesn’t yet know how frequently players and staff will test.
Practically every model for reopening businesses and communities has come in phases, and college athletic leaders have adopted the same approach. People in Castiglione’s position are occupied with safely integrating athletes back into facilities for voluntary workouts.
Down the road when OU decides on testing frequency, cost won’t be an issue, Castiglione said: “Sure, there is a financial component to it, but it’s not going to be an impediment for us. It doesn’t mean that it’s disregarded as a factor, but that’s not what guides the approach. I think it’s as much about the tests we actually decide to do.”
Test prices are constantly changing to fit demand. Castiglione went more in-depth with KREF radio host and OU football play-by-play announcer Toby Rowland on Friday, estimating at the current cost, the bill to administer one test for each player and staff member would be between $15,000 and $18,000.
Using a hypothetical scenario with OU’s cost estimate, we can get an idea of the money required to test an entire football program once per week in a season.
If the NCAA oversight committee passes its plan for an extended preseason as expected, and players report for walk-throughs on or around July 20, the cost of one test per week, per player and staff member from that point until the Big 12 championship game would be around $300,000 at the cheapest.
That’s not including personal protective equipment, sanitation and other costs that were unexpected this year.
That’s by no means an exact figure because testing frequency and price, the season’s structure, and other factors are, frankly, unknown or fluid. But it’s a starting point.
“We’re still watching (prices) all the time,” Castiglione told Rowland. “We’re watching the advancement of not only the production of tests, and with the availability of more tests that price is more than likely going to come down.”
It’s worth noting if schools did not have a football season — or conducted a shortened one — the financial losses would likely exceed the price tag for testing and other costs.
Castiglione pointed to two types of available tests. A nasopharyngeal test is around $75-$100 right now, he said. A COVID-19 blood test for antibodies, which can indicate if a person has had an immune response to the virus, costs a little less.
Schools must still make a choice about testing frequency. Not all institutions have the same budget, and because medical experts are still learning about the virus, they don’t always agree with each other about often testing should occur.
A prime example: The Southeastern Conference task force guiding the league’s decisions did not recommend widespread testing for athletes, according to The Athletic, because the of test limitations and timeliness of results.
• Trending up: So, those are many unknowns. Here’s something we know: Multiple reports say the oversight committee is expected to pass its extended preseason plan, which will add two weeks of walk-throughs at a minimum of 20 hours per week before real practice begins.
That keeps things on course for now.
• Trending down: In the bad news category, Houston announced Friday it has suspended its voluntary workouts because six symptomatic players tested positive for COVID-19.
As decision-makers sort through so many logistical issues, it hasn’t stopped some states that have reopened from experiencing case increases.
The state of Oklahoma saw its largest single-day increase with 222 newly reported cases Friday.
In Nashville, where SEC member Vanderbilt resides, the city will not proceed into Phase 3 of its reopening plan due to an elevated trend of cases over 14 days.
• Dates to consider: June 15 (or close to it; OU coach Lincoln Riley said players and staff will begin self quarantining in “mid-June” to be prepared for a July 1 start of voluntary workouts.)
• Notable: Many fans are wondering about OU’s game at Army on Sept. 26. There has been no change in the date or the expectation that it will be played, Castiglione said, though he acknowledged that could always change.
• Quotable: Castiglione, on whether OU will disclose if an athlete tests positive: “At some point, it very well may be important for us to disclose who may have tested positive for the virus because it may involve the contact tracing. Whether we disclose it or not, it might just get disclosed on its own.
“We have to follow (HIPPA) laws that are in place. But at some point, there’s going to be a disclosure depending on when it happens. Particularly, if something were to happen where a positive test occurs before a game and that player or coach cannot be available for the game.”
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