Pac-12 hopes ‘breakthrough’ in virus testing fastens return of sports

The Pac-12 has made moves securing coronavirus testing that conference officials hope will make way for fall sports to startup sooner than expected.

The conference teamed up with Quidel Corp, the diagnostics company to receive FDA authorization for an antigen test earlier this year, to deliver daily rapid Covid-19 testing to member colleges for student-athletes in close-contact sports.

Larry Scott, the Pac-12 commissioner, hopes the program will help the conference shake off state and county restrictions in California and Oregon that have hindered team practices at multiple schools, allowing for games to begin as soon as the end of the fall semester.

“I think today’s development will help us persuade that we can do so safely for our student-athletes and it certainly gives me a high degree of confidence we’re going to be able to start competition in January, and now maybe even before with this big breakthrough,” Scott said on CNBC’s “Closing Bell.”

The Pac-12, which includes 12 western U.S. schools such as Stanford University and the University of Oregon, followed fellow powerhouse Big Ten in postponing the fall sports season to potentially be played in the spring semester. The decisions came as campuses across the country considered whether to host classes either in-person, online or in a hybrid fashion as the country continued to grapple with a global health crisis.

Pac-12 schools are in Arizona, California, Colorado, Oregon, Utah and Washington. To run sports without fans in the stadium would still leave member schools with lost revenue of about $50 million. A canceled season would put athletic budgets, which are generated in large part by revenues from college football, in even more peril.

The partnership prepares Pac-12 schools with tools for frequent and rapid testing before teams take the field, helping to stop the virus from spreading among teammates and forcing full teams into quarantine, a press release said. The conference reported bringing in $530 million in total revenue in the 2018-2019 financial year.

“This is a big breakthrough for us,” Scott said.The Sofia 2 testing machines and tests are expected to arrive on campuses by the end of September.

Quidel, which is based in San Diego, California, expects the partnership will help have large implications than just in Pac-12 locker rooms. Quidel CEO Douglas Bryant, who appeared onscreen with Scott, hopes the rapid testing and adjoining research will help the general public facilitate plans to return to work.

Bryant said the company has been working with Pac-12 universities on research for up to four months now. The accompanying research will study if the testing protocols, which include point-of-care rapid testing prior to practice and game time, has an impact on close-contact environments.

“We’re going to be engaged in research that’s going to allow us to understand a lot more about what asymptomatic testing looks like in a large population,” Bryant said.

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