SEC Media Days Football

South Carolina coach Will Muschamp speaks to reporters Thursday at SEC Media Days.

The Southeastern Conference might be planning on testing its players for coronavirus three times a week during the football season, South Carolina coach Will Muschamp told reporters Wednesday.

The fifth-year head coach said the league plans on testing players on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays of game weeks, but SEC spokesman Herb Vincent did not confirm what Muschamp said.

"Our Medical Task Force is meeting regularly on developing testing protocols and it will be announced when finalized," Vincent said in a statement.

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If true, the SEC's move would be in sync with the Big Ten's requirement for its high contact risk sports to test players multiple times in a week. The Big Ten released a COVID-19 medical protocol Wednesday, which required its high contact risk sports to test "a minimum of twice weekly."

College football's major conferences appear to be taking a step further than what the NCAA suggested within the coronavirus guidelines the governing body released in mid-July. The NCAA advised teams to test players for the virus within 72 hours of competition for high contact risk sports — a request that only includes one test per week.

Even that advisement led smaller conferences to subsequently cancel football in the fall. PCR tests, the NCAA's preferred method, can cost from $100 to $110, and several schools could not afford testing hundreds of players over several months or acquire the medical resources to do so.

Southwestern Athletic Conference commissioner Charles McClelland said testing cost was a major reason the league decided to postpone its football season until the fall.

"There were some (members) that were clearly going to have to come up with additional resources for testing," McClelland said. "It was going to be a strain on their overall budget. I do think we had institutions that had major concerns about the cost of testing."

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Member schools within the Big Ten and the SEC have much deeper pockets, some, like LSU, with annual profit margins that exceed $50 million.

The ability to test up to three times in a week helps out one of the major issues with the NCAA's 72-hour guideline. With just one test three days before a game, it's possible that a player unknowingly contracts the virus, which lies dormant until after the player is tested before their competition.

By testing on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays, a school will receive a more accurate picture of the health of their team and can act more quickly to prevent viral spreads when players test positive.

Still, more tests means more swabs means more strain on PCR labs. In late July, Northwestern State athletic director Greg Burke said this presents a moral issue: Asymptomatic athletes getting routine tests are adding to the region's total tests, and labs have to choose which patients get their test results back first.

"So you're going to test a 20-year-old, asymptomatic player to make sure he can play," Burke said then. "In the meantime, here's a 70-year-old who really needs to have a test, because they're high risk. What's more important? When you get right down to basic human rights, what's more important? Finding out if that 20-year-old can run out on the field, or finding out if that 70-year-old, if there's anything about that test that would maybe necessitate additional treatment that they need to get sooner than later?"

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Last month, the Louisiana Department of Health issued prioritization guidelines to health providers on who to test first when testing capacity is limited. Top priority patients include: symptomatic, hospitalized patients; symptomatic patients who have underlying chronic health conditions; symptomatic patients over the age of 65; and symptomatic patients who are immunosuppressed.

The guidelines aren't mandates, and there are no LDH prioritization guidelines on which tests should be processed first once the samples reach the lab. So, an athletic program can still attempt to quickly receive test results by accessing its variety of health care options.

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Email Brooks Kubena at bkubena@theadvocate.com.