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How often should the Pac-12 be testing players the fall?

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On Tuesday, the Pac-12 announced that they were planning to test their athletes weekly once they return to campus. But will that be enough?

NCAA Football: Pac-12 Media Day Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this week, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said in an interview that his conference will plan on testing their athletes for COVID-19 on a weekly basis once they return to campus.

But will that be enough to prevent a potential breakout on gameday?

Jon Wilner, a reporter for the Mercury News, caught up with renowned infectious disease expert George Rutherford to get his take on if football would be safe to play in the fall and, if so, how much testing should be done?

“If (South) Korean baseball can do it, then we can, too,” Rutherford told Wilner. “You’d have to test them a ton, just to be sure. You’d have to screen the kids frequently, and the coaches and support staff.”

According to Rutherford, the director of the Prevention and Public Health Group at UC San Francisco, in a perfect world, athletes would be tested three times a week. It generally takes three days for someone with the virus to become contagious, so testing players 72 hours before kickoff would be ideal to determine, as early as possible, who would be ruled out for a game on Saturday.

But in order to be 100% sure the virus isn’t spread on the field, the athletes should be tested once again on gameday. “From a physiological standpoint,” Rutherford told Wilner,” you’d need to do it as close to the game as possible.”

That would be enough to ensure the virus doesn’t get spread from team to team. But in order to achieve full containment, you would have to add another test on Monday to cover any spread that may have happened over the weekend.

Three tests a week, every week for 20 weeks to cover training camp and the season. In his piece, Wilner went on to break down the specific costs and estimates it would cost $450,000 to test an entire football program for one season.

In a normal year, that would be a tough price tag for some programs. But in a year where ticket income will likely be greatly reduced or eliminated entirely, it’s an even tougher ask. Only time will tell what these numbers mean for programs big and small across the sport.

College football in the fall? Play ball, says epidemiologist
That’s $450,000 from August through November — or about 0.6 percent of the total annual revenue generated by a Power Five football program.

Links and Tweets

College football, coronavirus and the question of testing - Sports Illustrated
As NCAA athletes return to campus, not everyone is handling COVID tests the same—and even doctors are in disagreement.