LARAMIE — The Mountain West isn’t responding to the Big Ten’s decision to play football this fall with a reversal of its own.
At least not yet.
After initially joining the Mountain West, the Mid-American Conference and the Pac-12 in postponing football and the rest of fall sports in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the Big Ten reversed course Wednesday. The league announced it will conduct a season starting the weekend of Oct. 23 following a unanimous vote among its 14 university presidents and chancellors, who cited the development of “significant medical protocols,” including daily antigen testing and enhanced cardiac screening, as the reason for their change of heart.
In response to the league’s decision, Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson said in a statement the conference is still in the process of developing a safe return-to-play plan.
“Multiple subgroups within the conference are working daily on solutions to the existing challenges in order to facilitate a return to play for Mountain West football and other conference sport programs at the earliest possible opportunity,” Thompson said. “This includes finalizing a plan for frequent, rapid response testing and continuing to monitor the status of public health directives in our MW states and communities.”
Asked which testing provider the league is looking to partner with in its attempt to secure more rapid testing of its student-athletes, Mountain West spokesman Javan Hedlund told the Star-Tribune “those discussions are ongoing” and an announcement will be made at a later date. The ability to do so has been a game-changer for many FBS conferences in deciding to push forward with football this fall.
The American Athletic Conference announced Wednesday it has partnered with Virtual Care for Families for an antigen testing program to be administered the day before games that can produce results in 15 minutes and is designed for group-testing capabilities. The Pac-12 has entered an agreement with the Quidel Corporation to provide daily antigen testing for its football players beginning at the end of the month.
Conference USA, the Big 12, the ACC and the SEC, which is scheduled to begin its season Sept. 26, are reportedly administering COVID-19 tests multiple times a week.
But another hurdle the Pac-12 and the Mountain West have to clear is local restrictions still in effect in places where some of their member schools reside. For now, college football teams in Oregon, Hawaii, New Mexico and California — home to MW members Fresno State, San Diego State and San Jose State — aren’t able to practice because of public-health orders in those states.
That’s not an issue in Wyoming, which has amended its public-health orders to allow close-contact group activities and sports in all settings. The NCAA is allowing teams in conferences that have postponed their seasons to take part in 12 hours of athletic activity per week, including up to five hours of on-field instruction, but a UW spokesman told the Star-Tribune on Wednesday the football team has yet to start full-scale practices again.