The SEC is among a number of conferences interested in what could be a COVID-19 contact tracing game changer down the stretch of the 2020 college football season. CNN reported Tuesday the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) informed the White House Coronavirus Task Force that it will be recommend COVID-19 quarantines for those in close contact with infected persons be reduced from 14 days to 7-10 days.
With most conferences currently utilizing the 14-day guideline, they may be able to get players back 4-7 days sooner if they adopt the CDC's soon-to-be new recommendation.
Various coaches complained during the season that contact tracing following COVID-19 positives has impacted player availability more than the actual positives themselves. Most conferences require infected players to sit out a minimum of 10 days. However, in most cases, those in close contact are required to be isolated 14 days.
"I think it's a pretty significant difference," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "Everybody's felt from the beginning when you get quarantined and you may not even get sick that 14 days was a pretty long time to get quarantined. But we've always respected the science."
While he wouldn't commit to advocating change, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey told CBS Sports "there was potential there for adaptation" of the CDC's amended guidelines.
"I would expect a high level of interest in first understanding the new policy … and then working to see how that might be applied in the college athletic setting and likely across college campuses," Sankey added.
The commissioners of both the AAC (Mike Aresco) and Pac-12 (Larry Scott) told CBS Sports their conferences would "likely" have to reconsider current contact tracing quarantines based on the new CDC recommendations.
"Obviously it makes it easier to bring players back more quickly," said Zach Binney, an epidemiologist at Emory University. "Fourteen days for teams that have the capacity and resources to test regularly was probably always extreme. It was careful and it was good but now we've got better data."
Contact tracing is defined as a disease control strategy that involves identifying the infected and those they've come in contact with to interrupt further transmission of a disease.
The quarantine reduction could have a huge impact with Bowl Season and College Football Playoff games coming up. Bowl executives are already skittish about staging games during a pandemic. Anything that can ensure teams can actually show up healthy, on time and ready to play would be a benefit.
The SEC has experienced its share of issues despite the league being on track to play all 70 of its games this season. LSU has had two games rescheduled because of COVID-19 outbreaks. Saban dealt with a false positive himself before the Georgia game then missed last week's Auburn game because of a confirmed positive. At least 31 Florida players and staff, including coach Dan Mullen, tested positive in the month of October. The program was shut down for 10 days and missed two games.
"I don't think it would have changed what we did," Mullen said of the new CDC guidelines. "Under an abundance of caution, we have a worldwide pandemic going on and safety is priority No. 1 for us. It wasn't how fast we can get on the field and play at all cost."
What might be more troubling: Reporting publicly the number of positives and contact tracing cases has varied from program to program. Ohio State continues to not reveal the numbers of players and staff impacted. It does release a list of players unavailable the day before games without revealing reasons.
Michigan this week stopped all football activities due to COVID-19 concerns. Ohio State has already had two games canceled. One more and it will be ineligible for the Big Ten Championship Game on Dec. 19.
The Big Ten did not respond to a request for comment on the expected change to the CDC's guidelines.