When the ACC announced last week that they were planning to go forward with their college football season, along with the SEC and Big XII, many decried the obvious problems with a contact sport being played in the current non-bubble environment. People screamed “How could you even think about moving forward when you know a vaccine won’t be available until the beginning of next year at the earliest?”
I outlined multiple reasons why they were doing just this, and the last one mentioned was “time.” The conferences had at least a month prior to the start of these seasons, and they were aware a lot could change, for good or bad, in that time. If they were going to make a major financial decision like this, they wanted to at least do so closer to a point of no return than so far out. Just a few days later, this thinking seems to have been validated.
On Saturday, the FDA issued an emergency approval for Saliva Direct, a test that was developed by Yale and partially funded by both the NBA and the NBAPA. In short, because the NBA was going to conduct a ton of tests to make sure they could stay safe in their bubble environment, they provided a perfect sample size to test the new product. The new test just requires someone to spit in a tube, as opposed to the standard swab test that feels like your brain is getting cleaned. Between the money and the subjects, Yale was able to show that the test was about as effective as the swab test, and at a substantially lower cost and quicker turn around time due to the fact that any lab can provide results. You know, like labs that every college campus will have at their student health centers.
For more detail of how this is great news, you probably want to read this thread from Andy Slavitt, former head of healthcare for the Obama Administration. He’s had a podcast updating people about Covid, and couldn’t stop glowing about how good this possibly be. For our purposes, though, here’s the kicker:
5. This is important because of schools. Universities. Office buildings. For wide testing of asymptomatic people.— Andy Slavitt @ (@ASlavitt) August 15, 2020
They are all getting introduced to the test in the next few weeks.
You can’t spend $100 multiple times/week on a person’s point in time test.
6. Turnaround time. SalivaDirect can be pooled for faster turnaround.— Andy Slavitt @ (@ASlavitt) August 15, 2020
In addition, labs around the country will be authorized to be able to do the test if they show they have the basic equipment.
For college football, they will now have access to a test that is really easy to administer, and will quickly identify anyone who may have caught the virus. That will allow the player to be isolated quickly, hopefully avoiding widespread infections and reducing quarantine times for those who were in direct contact with that player. This constant testing won’t bankrupt these programs as, ideally, the cost will only be thousands per round instead of tens of thousands, and as the protocol becomes more widely available, more people will be able to find out they have contracted the virus without having to leave home.
In short, the SEC, ACC, and Big XII gambled that in the weeks between these announcements and the start of the season, something would come up that would make the decision to play or not play a lot more concrete. Access to easy, affordable, and quick testing is indeed that “something” to the point where schools in the Big Ten are now questioning the decision to suspend play in the fall.
NEWS: From Justin Fields' dad to parents at several other Big Ten schools, opinions are flowing about the football cancelation. Some league coaches have received an "action plan" for overturning the NCAA liability waiver ban and play ball. Could it work? https://t.co/jmbZZkUiKg— Pat Forde (@ByPatForde) August 15, 2020
Time is on the side of the conference as the roll out of the test should be quick, and with the new schedule having two off weeks built in, should the conference feel that they need a little extra time in order to make sure all of their members have easy access to testing, they can adjust things accordingly. The news comes at a good time for UNC, as over the weekend four clusters of COVID were announced on campus, with the fourth coming on Sunday at Hinton James. It’s worth noting that the football players haven’t been part of any of those clusters, and with so much on the line the hope is that the staff has imparted just how important it is for the players to avoid things that would get them exposed.
In the end, the new tests may come too late to allow for a season to happen, as multiple college campuses are opening like nothing wrong is happening, and these clusters are predictable results. If so, at least the conferences will know they didn’t pull it too soon and face the strife the Big Ten is right now. If football does happen, though, fans will have the NBA and the NBAPA to thank for it.