The Big 12 and Conference USA will enter the 2020 season with plans to test for COVID-19 three times during game weeks, commissioners from both leagues tell CBS Sports. Conference USA is expected to make a formal announcement on Thursday.
The first two tests conducted by Big 12 and Conference USA each week will be of the viral PCR variety, the so-called "cranial dip" that goes deep into the sinus cavity. The third test will be of the antigen variety. That test is likely to administered Friday mornings before Saturday games with rapid results available later that day.
The viral PCR test is currently considered the best, most accurate COVID-19 test. It only misses an estimated 10% of infections. The antigen test is the fastest, least-expensive test and can be turned around quickly. However, it is less accurate than the PCR test.
Big 12 and Conference USA schools can apply the PCR tests as they see fit. The Big 12 has contracted a testing firm that will go to each school to administer the third tests.
The SEC announced last week it is going to three weekly tests, also two PCR and one rapid antigen. The ACC is close to a similar announcement, a league source tells CBS Sports.
"The three-times-a-week testing is state of the art. The follow up after positive tests is state of the art," Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby told CBS Sports. "None of that guarantees a situation where you don't get disrupted, but it gives you the best chance."
The two conferences have long had a relationship. They are both headquartered in Dallas and frequently play each other in nonconference games in normal years.
"We're approaching it as cautiously as we can," Conference USA commissioner Judy MacLeod told CBS Sports. "It's hard to even put into words how much work so many people -- our athletic trainers, game operations -- have put into getting to this place.
"Hopefully, it will be a great experience. Hopefully, fans will respect the protocol."
Mere testing -- no matter how effective -- is only one tool. Until a COVID-19 vaccine or exceptional therapeutic is found the coronavirus will continue to be a threat.
"There are a lot of cases that could result in disruptions," Bowlsby warned. "You could get so many cases that your local health system can't handle it. You could find a period of time where you either can't test or get results [quickly enough]. There could be a public health edict for the area. You could have an outbreak within a team. You can have an outbreak on campus."
The Big 12 kicks off Sept. 12. Conference USA begins the FBS season a week from Thursday with UAB hosting Central Arkansas and South Alabama at Southern Miss.