Pac-12 to receive rapid-result COVID-19 testing, thanks to San Diego-based Quidel

When the Pac-12 announced on Aug. 11 that it was postponing all sports until at least Jan. 1, one major point of emphasis was that the collective testing capabilities of the league’s 12 schools were not good enough.

Quidel Corp., a San Diego-based manufacturer of diagnostic health care products, is about to take care of that problem.

The Pac-12 on Wednesday announced a testing research initiative with Quidel that will give Pac-12 schools access to daily rapid-results COVID-19 testing. With this, a Pac-12 athletic department can now test a student-athlete and have the results back in roughly 15 minutes.

Quidel, whose Sofia SARS Antigen test was given Emergency Use Authorization status by the FDA in May, will have Sofia 2 testing machines and tests delivered to all Pac-12 athletic departments by the end of this month.

“Simply put, it’s a game changer,” Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott on a Zoom call with reporters. “This ability, to have daily testing with immediate results, is a huge step forward for us.”

As 60% of Power Five conferences push forward with altered fall football schedules, Scott has been adamant that the Pac-12 has and will continue to listen to data and science in making decisions on when to resume sports. At the time of the postponement last month, the expectation was that this type of rapid-response testing would not be available until November at the earliest.

The Pac-12′s position at present remains no competition until Jan. 1, but Scott was willing to admit that the timeline could change with this new development. The NCAA is already discussing moving back the start of the basketball season, potentially to Nov. 25, which would give the Pac-12 more time to get in line with everyone else.

From a football standpoint, based on testing availability starting at the end of this month, optimism may begin building toward a start date before Jan. 1, but that remains wishful thinking for now.

For starters, half the Pac-12, all four California schools and both Oregon schools, have yet to receive the go-ahead from local and state health authorities to begin practice. In any scenario, the league will require a six-week ramp-up before a football game is played.

A start date around Thanksgiving would require a mid-October start to training camp. If rapid-response testing is not available until late September, that timeline feels aggressive. The prudent thing right now would be, at best, an early-January start, which would mean camp start of mid or late November.

Scott said Wednesday he has been in regular contact with embattled Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren, whose 14-team league is also postponed until the winter or spring. Scott indicated he would like to get the Pac-12 and Big Ten football seasons aligned in an effort to, as he put it, “have some of the traditional postseason opportunities the Pac-12 and Big Ten have enjoyed with each other over many, many decades.”

A springtime Rose Bowl between the Pac-12 and Big Ten champions would be unprecedented. The Rose Bowl remains scheduled for Jan. 1, but it is its turn in the rotation as a College Football Playoff semifinal.

“When we made our decision not to start competition until Jan. 1, it was based on the information in front of us, leading with what public health authorities will allow us to do and not having access to the kind of testing we will have access to by the end of the month,” said Scott, who noted the financial component of this initiative will remain private. “We’ve got to constantly reevaluate in light of these circumstances.”

As far as the University of Utah goes, the Utes football team is back at practice, adhering to the NCAA’s 12-hour weekly limit for FBS teams not playing this fall. Unlike California and Oregon, Utah would have permission from local and state authorities to play a football game if one needed to be played. Thursday, for what it’s worth, was originally scheduled as the Utes’ opener vs. BYU at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Utah’s campus is located in Salt Lake City, which is ready to move from an “orange,” or moderate health risk, down to a “yellow,” or low health risk, on Saturday. Salt Lake City had been the lone remaining part of the state of Utah at “orange.”

“Our top priority all along has been the health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches and staff, and we will continue to keep that priority at the forefront of everything we do,” Utah athletic director Mark Harlan said in a statement. “Our approach will continue to be subject to the approval of public health authorities, and we will remain in close communication with campus and Pac-12 Conference leadership as we go forward.”