According to the fall sports requirements of the SEC Return to Activity and Medical Guidance Task Force, a set of guidelines last revised Monday: “Asymptomatic individuals with a positive COVID-19 RT-PCR test will be placed immediately into isolation.” That occurred around midday Wednesday, when Saban, 68, learned of his positive test and headed home immediately. The coach with five national championships and two runner-up finishes in his 14 Alabama seasons told reporters via a video call from his home that evening that he has felt fine all along and that the result stunned him.
He then tested negative on Thursday, on Friday and on Saturday morning, which kicked into relevance a further paragraph of the guidelines: “If the second PCR test is negative, the individual should receive two (2) additional PCR tests 24 hours apart administered by PAE. If the individual has three (3) successive negative PCR tests, and remains asymptomatic, they may be released from isolation and medically cleared to return to athletics activities only.”
“Because Coach Saban remained asymptomatic,” Alabama team physician Jimmy Robinson said in a statement, “he received PCR testing at 7 a.m. on Thursday, Friday and today through the SEC-appointed lab. Each of those tests were negative and were reported via the SEC’s third-party testing provider to the conference office in Birmingham. Those three negative tests satisfied the SEC protocol for a false positive. Out of an abundance of caution, two additional PCR tests were administered at the same time on Thursday and Friday and were tested by a separate lab. Those tests were also negative.”
While Alabama and Georgia do not play annually because they’re in separate divisions of the conference, they have played five times in the past 12 seasons, with Alabama winning all five, including two SEC championship games (in December 2012 and December 2018) and one College Football Playoff national championship game (in January 2018). Saban’s substantial tree of former assistants, which includes Georgia Coach Kirby Smart, has gone 0-21 against the former boss, all with Saban on the opposing sideline.
A few hours after Alabama announced Saban was cleared to return to the sideline, Florida Coach Dan Mullen announced on Twitter that he had tested positive.
Mullen’s Gators are idle this weekend and next after the SEC postponed their games following an outbreak that has included at least 22 players testing positive since last week’s loss at Texas A&M. Their next scheduled game is Oct. 31 against Missouri.
Mullen apologized Wednesday after saying following last week’s loss to the Aggies that he hoped Florida fans would be allowed to “pack the Swamp” for Saturday’s game against LSU. Following local health guidelines, Florida’s school president said there are no plans to expand Ben Hill Griffin Stadium’s capacity beyond the 20 percent that was allowed for the Gators’ home opener earlier this month.