All but four LSU offensive linemen are in quarantine after they either tested positive for the novel coronavirus or were determined to have high-risk exposure, multiple sources told The Advocate on Wednesday.
Players who test positive for COVID-19 must isolate for at least 10 days after their positive test, according to Southeastern Conference protocols. Symptoms have to subside for at least 24 hours without medication before those players can return to practice. Individuals with high-risk exposure must quarantine for 14 days.
LSU's athletic department hasn't publicly released information on coronavirus cases and has declined to confirm specifics on outbreaks. The university started reporting aggregate positive coronavirus cases for the first time Aug. 15 when students began returning to campus. Since then, LSU has reported 47 total positive cases with 25 positive results in the last seven days.
When reached for comment Wednesday, LSU senior associate athletic director Robert Munson said the athletic department reports all positive cases to the school's Emergency Operations Center.
The coronavirus' effect on the offensive line outlines a practical football problem, as well as a health issue. Teams commonly use five offensive linemen in a game. Without enough personnel, the unit can't properly function.
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The 10-day isolation and two-week quarantine periods can potentially devastate a football team in the middle of a season, especially if swaths of players contact an individual who tests positive.
LSU, which began preseason practice Aug. 17, doesn't have enough offensive linemen to field in practice, but the regular season isn't scheduled to begin until Sept. 26, when the Tigers host Mississippi State. The team practiced in full pads the last two days.
The day after LSU opened preseason practice last week, coach Ed Orgeron said the team had "two-to-three" players who couldn't practice because of the coronavirus. He didn't identify the players.
Orgeron didn't say at the time if anyone else in the football program had to quarantine after high-risk exposure, which the NCAA defined as more than 15 minutes with close contact (less than 6 feet apart) with an infected person.
"Our players feel comfortable that they’re getting the proper care," Orgeron said at the time. "We practice COVID-19 principles in here. Our guys don’t blink.”
Ed Orgeron has coached college football almost every year since 1984, and in that time, he has never experienced a preseason camp quite like this one.
LSU's football team had an initial spike of coronavirus cases earlier this summer. The total number of cases focused around a group of five to six players, a source told The Advocate in June. No players were hospitalized. Every case showed mild symptoms.
At the time, Sports Illustrated reported at least 30 members of LSU's football team were isolated because they either tested positive for COVID-19 or contacted others who tested positive.
Orgeron later said most of the team's cases resulted from players attending bars in Tigerland, a student-focused nightlife area that the Louisiana Department of Health announced June 19 produced more than 100 positive cases.
In early July, Orgeron said reports on the number of players who tested positive were too high and the football program's coronavirus case numbers were "way down" from its initial spike.
While many conferences have postponed fall sports, six Football Bowl Subdivision leagues intend to play football this fall, including the SEC, which will play a 10-game, league only schedule. Delaying the season allowed the SEC to monitor cases after students returned to campus.
LSU has one more scholarship available this season, and coach Ed Orgeron said Tuesday it may use the opening on a cornerback or nickel corner.
The SEC announced in mid-July players can opt out of the season and hold onto their scholarships. Two LSU players have since opted out of the season because of concerns related to the coronavirus: junior defensive lineman Neil Farrell Jr. and senior safety Kary Vincent Jr.
Farrell plans to return for his senior season next fall. Vincent announced he will begin preparing for the NFL draft.
Other college programs have experienced similar situations during preseason practice. Texas Tech announced Tuesday it had 21 active cases of COVID-19 within its football program. Texas Tech coach Matt Wells said the positive tests have not "wiped out" any position groups, according to ESPN. Texas Tech has continued to practice.
Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley told reporters Tuesday all but one player in an unidentified position group had to miss a practice last week because they either tested positive for the coronavirus or contacted someone who tested positive. Riley said the position required “multiple players on the field at one time."
Oklahoma's football program at one point went a month without a positive result, according to the school, but the team announced Monday 17 players had active coronavirus cases. Riley said "eight or nine" of those players returned to the team.
LSU anticipated positive coronavirus cases, but it hopes to prevent the virus from spreading throughout its teams by using contact tracing and daily symptom screens. Players and staff receive temperature checks and answer a questionnaire about their health when they enter the football operations building.
Coaches and staff have to wear masks at practice, and players must wear face coverings inside the facility. Signs in hallways share public health recommendations. Orgeron has also said the team practices social distancing.
"We feel comfortable," Orgeron said last week. "The guys that did get sick, most of them are asymptomatic. They got quarantine and stuff like that. But we didn’t have guys that were really sick and had to take to the hospital or anything, so I think our guys are getting used to it.”
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