Ten days remain until LSU hosts the opener of its conference-only season, and the school's athletic department is still facing questions ranging from how many football players have tested positive for coronavirus to which season-ticket holders will be included in Tiger Stadium's 25% capacity limit.
The answer for exact seating arrangements may come next week, LSU officials said. The opt-out deadline for season-ticket holders was last Friday, and as the numbers stood, the LSU ticket office was going to have make some cuts.
Brian Broussard, LSU's assistant athletic director over ticket operations, said last week that an exact plan would be put together after Friday's opt-out deadline, and it could take a week to finalize.
Senior associate athletic director Robert Munson said 72% of LSU's 71,000 season-ticket holders have now opted out. The final number, an estimated 19,880 holders, must still be added to a total attendance that will also include students, coach and player accommodations and the visiting team's 500-ticket allotment.
Athletic director Scott Woodward told reporters Wednesday season-ticket holders with multiple tickets may not receive their total amount.
Woodward also addressed a moment of transparency that happened Tuesday when LSU coach Ed Orgeron revealed to reporters that "most," not all, of the football team's players have caught coronavirus already.
Orgeron's update revealed the football team's case totals were higher than what was previously publicly known, since LSU's athletic department hasn't publicly released information on COVID-19 cases and has declined to confirm specifics on outbreaks.
Woodward said in a joint news briefing with interim LSU president Tom Galligan on Wednesday that Orgeron "was a bit too transparent" in his update.
"The beauty of this is that Coach O is totally transparent and honest to a fault, and it's a great thing," Woodward said. "This is very similar to what we're seeing across all schools that have been doing this."
Previously, Orgeron had revealed limited information on the football team's positive cases. His reports were similar to what he also told reporters Tuesday: that the team, as of then, had "about three or four guys" who have COVID-19, and the team does not have "a lot of guys in quarantine."
Although Woodward said he is updated daily on LSU's COVID-19 data, he declined to speak on specific numbers on Wednesday, instead emphasizing that LSU's players are getting "world-class" medical attention and oversight.
No players have been hospitalized, and each case has shown mild symptoms. Shelly Mullenix, LSU's director of wellness and a senior associate athletic director, also said Wednesday the school has not yet seen any cases of myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle that is triggered by viruses.
"Our kids have been healthy and have gone through it," Woodward said, "And, frankly, I think we are doing great things, and I'm really pleased with how we're doing it."
Woodward cited two student privacy protections, HIPAA and FERPA, in explaining why the LSU athletic department doesn't provide specific numbers, as other college football programs such as Clemson, Notre Dame and Texas have. He also said a running total of COVID-19 positive case numbers "doesn't tell the whole story."
Woodward, emphasizing that he is not an epidemiologist, said that it's his opinion that most of the LSU football team's cases happened socially, not at the athletic facilities or at practice.
"There's lies, damn lies and statistics," Woodward said, quoting a phrase popularized by Mark Twain. "We're very careful with (coronavirus), and as long as I think we have the proper oversight with what we're doing, we're in a very good direction."
Legal experts have said those privacy protections don't apply to withholding overall coronavirus data on campus. Experts told The Washington Post that as along as schools share blanket numbers without pointing to individuals, schools could share data.
In March, the U.S. Department of Education released coronavirus guidelines for FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which said schools should share COVID-19 data so long as no student personal information was given.
The university started reporting aggregate positive coronavirus cases for the entire campus on Aug. 15, when the fall semester began. Since then, LSU has reported 768 total positive cases, with 14 positive results in between Monday and Tuesday.
Asked if LSU's athletic department could provide weekly number totals, Woodward said the school is already fulfilling its reporting protocols by sharing data with the university and the Louisiana Department of Health.
Galligan said the Southeastern Conference’s university presidents are meeting weekly, and they have expressed confidence in the league’s mask and social-distancing protocols, their plans for at least twice-weekly testing and their delayed start date.
Woodward said SEC commissioner Greg Sankey was “the unsung hero” in the league’s patient approach. Delaying the season, Galligan said, was a “great decision” that is partly validated by the Big Ten’s announcement Wednesday that it will begin its previously canceled fall season on Oct. 24.
In August, the Big Ten and Pac-12 were the only Power 5 conferences to postpone their seasons to the spring, and since then, the Big Ten’s league office has received blowback and pushback from its member schools, coaches and players.
“Sankey got it right,” Woodward said, “and I’m very proud to be a member of this league and how we do things.”
The Big Ten and Pac-12's initial decisions were partly influenced by myocarditis concerns with athletes, and that there is still little medical information about what long-term effects will present with people who contract coronavirus.
Some data was misguided.
Earlier this month, Penn State’s director of athletic medicine, Dr. Wayne Sebastianelli, cited inaccurate data when he said 30 to 35 percent of the cardiac MRI scans on Big Ten athletes who had contracted COVID-19 appeared to show myocarditis.
A Penn State spokesman later clarified in a statement that Sebastianielli shared preliminary data of a forthcoming study that had been published at a lower rate. The spokesman said there were no myocarditis cases with Penn State athletes.
LSU's Mullenix said that, while myocarditis is still a concern, the university's sports medicine staff has been checking for the heart condition with its athletes for more than 20 years.
Every athlete that arrives on campus, freshmen and transfers, goes through two heart examinations — an echocardiogram and an electrocardiogram (EKG) — to establish medical baselines.
Each athlete who tests positive for coronavirus, Mullenix said, goes through another echocardiogram and EKG to see if there's any signs of inflammation in the heart. The sports medicine staff also examines blood work from each athlete, which also provides signs of inflammation.
Since athletes who have contracted the virus have all presented mild symptoms, Mullenix said the tests are usually done after the athlete's 10-day required isolation is over. The tests then continue for eight weeks, in case complications present later.
"That's why I feel so strongly about it and feel good about what we're doing," Mullenix said.