LARAMIE — An opportunity for rapid COVID-19 testing “may be available” for the Mountain West Conference in the near future, University of Wyoming athletic director Tom Burman told the school’s Board of Trustees Thursday morning.
The development could help the conference, which postponed all of its fall sports on Aug. 10 due to the pandemic, get back to competition sooner rather than later.
“The challenge will be how quickly can we do it, how quickly can we do testing,” Burman said. “I feel there’s a chance, but where it goes from here, I don’t know.”
The Big Ten, along with the Pac-12, Mountain West and Mid-American Conference, initially postponed all fall sports and set tentative plans to play those seasons in the spring. The Big Ten reversed course Wednesday, however, and announced a return to play plan that will see its 14 members begin competition Oct. 24.
In its press release, the Big Ten cited rapid, daily testing as one of the keys to university presidents changing their minds on the initial dangers that led them to the postponement.
Following Burman’s address to the Board of Trustees, UW president Edward Seidel released a statement on the potential return of fall sports, saying he was optimistic they could be put back in place.
“Due to recent advances in COVID-19 testing technology, and in light of the decision by the Big Ten Conference to return to competition in October, I am hopeful that we will find a safe path forward to get our athletics program back in business,” Seidel said in a news release. “It was terribly disappointing for all of us — especially those players and coaches, but also our amazing fans — that a postponement of the fall season was determined to be necessary. Our athletics director, Tom Burman, and our department of athletics are working hard with their colleagues to bring the postponement to an end for the Cowboys and Cowgirls. We’re not able to announce anything right now, but be assured that we’re doing everything we can to make it happen.”
While football is at the forefront of most people’s minds, Burman noted that all athletes would have equal access to the hypothetical testing. When asked by a board member the odds of there being football sometime this academic year, Burman said chances were “very high” and that, “it could happen sooner.”
“Testing is the issue for returning to play, and it has to be rapid, frequent testing,” Burman said. “That’s not simple nor cheap.”
Stadium’s Brett McMurphy reported Wednesday night that the Mountain West was looking into an eight-game season that would include a Dec. 19 conference title game. WyoSports reached out to the conference for comment on McMurphy’s report.
“Our Board of Directors, AD’s, coaches and student-athletes are working to put together a return to play plan with many of these groups meeting daily,” a conference spokesperson said.
Burman told WyoSports earlier this summer that a lack of football could produce a revenue loss of up to $15 million for the athletic department. Even with a potential fall season, the athletic department would still be at a shortfall, Burman said, due in part to there being less games played.
“There is still a hole,” he said. “We will still have a financial challenge.”
As far as preparation is concerned for a potential fall football season, Burman told the Board of Trustees that, in a perfect world, UW head coach Craig Bohl would probably prefer to have six weeks of preparation, particularly since players were given time off following the initial postponement.
The other fall sports (cross-country, women’s volleyball and women’s soccer) would be on different, and likely quicker, timelines for adequate return-to-play preparation.
“Football is the challenge,” Burman said. “They’re not in as good of shape as they were Aug. 15. So we have some work to do. … (Bohl) may get five weeks, he may get four weeks … We’re not going to play if it’s not safe, both from a COVID and from a contact perspective.”
Burman also said that the UW men’s and women’s basketball teams are planning to begin their seasons in late November, following the NCAA’s announcement on Wednesday that the season would begin on Nov. 25. The NCAA also noted that practices can begin Oct. 14 and that teams can’t play more than 27 games.
Because of how quickly the schedule may change due to postponements or cancelations, Burman said there would likely not be season tickets for basketball this season, and that tickets would be sold on an individual basis instead.