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Pac-12 football plans remain in holding pattern

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The Pac-12 took a significant step toward joining the Big Ten in playing football in the fall, getting clearance to hold full-fledged practices from the states of California and Oregon.

Early Wednesday, the Big Ten grabbed headlines by changing course and agreeing to set an an eight-game football schedule that would start the weekend of Oct. 24.

The Pac-12 also has reconsidered starting its football season this fall, but it has more hurdles to clear. Half of its schools have been unable to ramp up preparation for the season because of restrictions put in place by state and local authorities to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Later Wednesday, the Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott announced a breakthrough with the California and Oregon governors that was helped along by the conference’s plans to soon begin testing athletes daily for the virus.

“The Pac-12 welcomes today’s statements by Governor Newsom of California and Governor Brown of Oregon that state public health officials will allow for contact practice and return to competition, and that there are no state restrictions on our ability to play sports in light of our adherence to strict health and safety protocols and stringent testing requirements, including our recently announced partnership with Quidel which will enable daily rapid results testing,” Scott said.

He added: “Our California and Oregon universities will now each individually and immediately reach out to their relevant county public health officials to seek clarification on what is required to achieve the same clearance to resume contact practice and competition.”

Earlier this month, the Pac-12 announced a partnership that would give the conference’s schools the capacity to perform daily, rapid COVID-19 tests on athletes. Scott has called the testing a “game-changer” and it certainly proved to be so in the Big Ten. That league’s university presidents unanimously voted to return to competition in all fall sports and said their schools will begin daily antigen testing on Sept. 30.

The Pac-12 CEO Group is scheduled to meet Friday to discuss the conference’s options. Because of the restrictions, it might take the teams that had been limited, including conference favorites Oregon and Southern California, more than a month to be ready to play. An Oct. 24 start, lined up with the Big Ten, could be challenging.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Scott spoke Wednesday. While there was some confusion about how the state’s rule limiting athletic activities to groups of no more than 12 could allow for football practice, ultimately things landed in a good place for the conference.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s spokesman said the two Pac-12 schools in that state met with the the Oregon Health Authority on Wednesday to discuss COVID-19 heath and safety plans for football and ask for a exemption to current sports guidance. An exemption has already be given to Oregon professional sports teams.

“We have granted that request, and, under the new guidance, OHA must receive written plans for approval,” Charles Boyle said in a statement.

Boyle said no plans had been received yet from the Pac-12.

“We want Oregon and Oregon State players to be able to focus on football while protecting their health and safety,” Boyle said. “We also want to ensure that team practices will not be derailed by a COVID-19 outbreak that would threaten the health not only of the players and coaches, but of their university communities and the wide communities of Eugene and Corvallis.”

The Big Ten and Pac-12 decided Aug. 11 to postpone all fall sports until January due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.

Football in the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Big 12 started last week, with the Southeastern Conference set to kick off its season on Sept. 26.

President Donald Trump pushed for the Big Ten to get back to football and had a similar sentiment for the Pac-12.

“I want to recommend Pac-12, you’re the only one now,” Trump said. “Open up, open up Pac-12.”

Orgeron: Most LSU players have had, recovered from COVID-19

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Most of LSU’s football players have contracted and recovered from COVID-19, coach Ed Orgeron said Tuesday, leaving the coaching staff hopeful those players will remain eligible to play the bulk of the season before they have to be tested again.

Orgeron made those comments while discussing how he would plan for the possibility of seemingly healthy starters or regulars suddenly being deemed ineligible to suit up for the defending national champions because of a positive COVID-19 test.

The coach explained that because players who have recovered from COVID-19 do not have to be tested again for 90 days under Southeastern Conference protocols, he figures he won’t likely have to worry about those who’ve come back from the virus suddenly being ruled out again because of it.

“I think, not all of our players, but most of our players have caught it,” Orgeron said during a video conference, adding later that he did not know the percentage of the roster that had tested positive.

“I think, hopefully, that once you catch it, you don’t get it again,” Orgeron added. “I’m not a doctor. I think they have that 90-day window, so most of the players that have caught it, we do feel like they’ll be eligible for games.

“So we look at the players that have caught it and say, `OK these guys should be eligible,”‘ Orgeron continued. “We look at the players who haven’t caught it; we talk to them about being very, very careful so they’re eligible for games. But we know that the players that haven’t caught it, we have to have some backups in their position ready in case they catch it. So we’re looking at our roster in that manner.”

Orgeron did not go into detail about whether any LSU players who tested positive have experienced symptoms. While COVID-19, which has killed more than 190,000 Americans, is more deadly among older people and people with preexisting conditions, it has caused lingering health problems in some younger, healthy people – including athletes.

The novel coronavirus can affect multiple organs, including the heart. Boston Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez, who’s 27, is sitting out the entire season while recovering from a heart issue related to the virus.

The SEC’s policy of not requiring testing of recovered players for 90 days is based on medical findings that antibodies developed in fighting off COVID-19 provide at least short-term immunity from contracting it again.

No. 6 LSU hosts Mississippi State on Sept. 26 to open a 10-game, league-only SEC schedule. The SEC canceled all nonconference games because of the pandemic.

The Big Ten and Pac-12 announced in August they would not play football this fall, partly out of concern for player safety. The Big Ten, however, has been discussing the possibility of allowing its football season to start as early as next month.

LSU officials have declined to make public precise counts or even percentages of players who have tested positive for antibodies or the disease itself. The virus has been spreading at alarming rates on college campuses since students began returning for the fall semester, with some schools scrapping in-person instruction as a result.

Orgeron’s comments Tuesday were narrowly focused on how the virus would affect his ability to field a team rather than the larger implications of a widespread outbreak among his players.

“I told the team, `We need everybody.’ There’s no telling what’s going to happen with the COVID,” Orgeron said. “I think we’ve got a good handle of it, but once a kid gets it, the next man’s got to go up.”

Orgeron said the training staff tells him who has tested positive and who has to quarantine for how long, “and we got to make adjustments.”

Orgeron recounted that about two weeks ago, all but a few offensive linemen were out because of COVID-19 testing or contact tracing, preventing the Tigers from running 11-on-11 drills for a few days.

“We adjusted very well,” Orgeron said.

Malzahn: 10 Auburn players sidelined by COVID-19 issues

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AUBURN, Ala. — Coach Gus Malzahn said No. 11 Auburn had five starters out of practice this week because of COVID-19-related issues.

Malzahn said Saturday the Tigers had two new positive tests this week and 10 total players are sidelined from practice because of the virus or close contact. He didn’t identify the players and declined to say if a particular position group had been hit hardest.

Auburn opens the season Sept. 26 against Kentucky and is set to begin specific game preparation on Sunday.

“All those guys will be back for the opener,” Malzahn said. But he noted that they will face challenges in getting ready when they are out until game week.

“You’re sitting here two weeks from kick and you’ve got some of your guys who aren’t practicing,” Malzahn said. “Obviously that’s concerning.”

In late August, Auburn canceled several practices after nine positive tests led to 16 players getting sidelined. Malzahn said two unspecified position groups “were hit extremely hard.”

“I think we’ve done an excellent job if you look at the last three weeks as far as the number of positives,” the coach said. “The challenge is close contact. And that’s something that is a big emphasis for us, but I know that it’s a big emphasis for everybody.

“We’ve really educated our guys. We’ve told them what they’ve got to do.”

Malzahn was asked what his backup plan for coaching a game if he’s sidelined by COVID. He cited his longtime friend, Liberty’s Hugh Freeze, who coached from a hospital bed in the coaches’ booth against Syracuse two weeks after undergoing surgery for a staph infection.

“One thing that I’ve already kind of got my mind on is, if I did, figure out a way in an isolated place in the stadium or Zoom in,” Malzahn said. “I know my buddy Hugh Freeze coached last year laying down in a hospital bed. That’s the way I’m looking at it.

“I’m going to figure out a way either through technology or isolation to still do it.”