Raymond Carlin III-USA TODAY Sports

Aranda optimistic Baylor will play Big 12 opener vs. Kansas

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WACO, Texas — Baylor coach Dave Aranda expressed optimism Monday that his team will be able to play its Big 12 opener against Kansas on Saturday after having to call off a game last weekend because of positive COVID-19 tests that affected a position group.

Declining to discuss specifics, Aranda said the Bears expected about five players back through the week at “the position that was affected,” as well as five or six players back at other positions.

“We’re feeling pretty strong about our team being fortified and being strengthened,” Aranda said. “The wild card in all it is going to be these tests that we take (this week). I feel confident about (playing). But after you’ve been hit with one of these, you’re very aware.”

Aranda, the former LSU defensive coordinator still waiting on his Baylor debut, said some of the expected returning players were coming back from injury, concussion protocol and “various other things” and that they weren’t all related to COVID.

Baylor released weekly testing results later Monday that include student-athletes and staff from multiple sports, not only football. There were four active cases, two of them asymptomatic, and the 18 cases overall being monitored, included primary contacts. The school reported three new cases since last week.

The Bears had scheduled non-conference games the past two weeks called off because of the coronavirus. Louisiana Tech had an outbreak before the Bulldogs were scheduled to play at Baylor on Sept. 12. That game was replaced by a hastily arranged reunion with former Southwest Conference rival Houston, but Baylor had to call that off about 24 hours before Saturday’s scheduled kickoff.

Big 12 policy calls for a 53-player roster to play a game, with that number including at least seven offensive linemen, four defensive linemen and one quarterback.

“We can still choose to play if we think it’s OK to to play it, if we think that we’re fine in terms of health and safety for our student athletes,” athletic director Mack Rhoades said Monday. “Obviously, we didn’t think that was the case.”

Rhoades said only that the Bears didn’t meet one of the minimums. He also didn’t provide specific numbers, but said half the players affected were positive tests, and the other half were because of close contact that put those players in a 14-day self quarantine.

Baylor-Houston postponed day before game

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Baylor’s season opener against Houston, scheduled less than a week ago, was one of two Bowl Subdivision games postponed Friday – the day before before they were supposed to play.

Florida Atlantic’s opener against Georgia Southern was postponed earlier in the day, following the results of FAU’s COVID-19 testing Thursday. In both cases, the schools involved said they would try to find make-up dates.

The postponements illustrate the uncertainty surrounding college sports. The number of FBS games postponed or canceled because of COVID-19 issues since Aug. 26 is 16 and the pandemic’s impact is being felt in other sports; one of college basketball’s premier tournaments is moving from Hawaii to North Carolina and the NCAA delayed the start of the basketball season to Nov. 25.

Athletes are scrambling too: Minnesota star receiver Rashod Bateman has re-joined his team after opting out of the season, and hopes to be able to play when the Big Ten starts in late October. A similar return played out earlier this week at Ohio State.

The Pac-12 could be next to get back in the game. The conference’s university presidents met Friday. A statement from the league said the CEO Group had “an informative and productive meeting.”

“We plan to reconvene this coming Thursday, Sept. 24 to make a decision regarding possible return to play prior to January 1,” the group said in a statement. “The health and safety of our student-athletes and all those connected to Pac-12 sports will continue to be our number one priority in all of our decision making.”

In putting off its opener, Baylor said it was unable to meet COVID-19 roster thresholds set by the Big 12. The school did not provide specifics on the players or positions affected by the coronavirus or the number of players who were quarantined due to contact tracing; on Monday, it said it had six active cases across its athletic programs and that 23 total cases were being monitored.

Baylor is scheduled to open its Big 12 season next week against Kansas. The Big 12 said that game is still on for now, but Baylor athletic director Mack Rhoades told SicEm365 Radio in Waco, Texas, he had not yet spoken to Kansas athletic director Jeff Long.

“Within this particular position group we can’t take on any more water,” Rhoades said.

The Big 12 said a minimum 53-player roster is necessary to play a game, and must include at least seven offensive linemen, four defensive linemen and one quarterback.

On Friday, the Southeastern Conference released similar thresholds with one key difference. The SEC said it would only count scholarship players among those minimums. The Big 12’s minimums include walk-ons.

“We’re heartbroken from this postponement,” said Dave Aranda, the former LSU defensive coordinator still waiting to make his debut as Baylor’s coach. “While we’ve been eager to play football this fall, we have all made a commitment to only do so with the highest level of safety and care for our student-athletes.”

The game between Baylor and Houston was scheduled only a week ago after the former Southwest Conference rivals both had their original openers put off because of the virus.

Baylor was supposed to play last Saturday against Louisiana Tech, which had widespread COVID-19 positive tests.

Houston was scheduled to play Friday night against Memphis, but the American Athletic Conference postponed that game last weekend after the Tigers had numerous players test positive.

Houston has now had four games postponed or canceled, including one against Washington State originally scheduled for Sept. 12 that was lost when the Pac-12 initially decided to play only conference foes. The Pac-12 subsequently postponed the fall season altogether but is now reconsidering, with a possible late October or early November start.

The Cougars are scheduled to play North Texas next week.

“We’re extremely disappointed for our student-athletes, coaches and staff,” Houston AD Chris Pezman said. “They all have consistently done the right thing and worked tirelessly to be prepared for this game.”

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.