On opposite coasts, there can be opposite protocols about the home team's responsibility to test officials

Division I basketball programs out West require the host school to test officials, while some East Coast schools are explicitly not allowed to for legal reasons

The men’s basketball game between Oregon and UCLA that was scheduled to tip off in Eugene at 12 p.m. PT on Dec. 23 was delayed that morning at 11:43 a.m. PT, with the intention for the game to start by 2 p.m. PT, only for it to ultimately be postponed indefinitely at 1:32 p.m. PT.

The reason?

The Pac-12 explained that the initial delay was because the schools were waiting for COVID-19 tests results for the game officials and, well, you can probably guess why the game was postponed less than two hours later.

While officials are certainly more critical to a college basketball game than broadcasters, the Oregon-UCLA postponement – like the positive test from a production employee who works in one of FS1’s production trucks before the Xavier-Toledo game on the third day of the season – was yet another example of how college basketball games can be disrupted even if no one on either team tests positive.

Officials who work Pac-12 basketball games are tested on the home team’s campus, according to Pac-12 Vice President of Public Affairs & Head of Communications Andrew Walker. That’s different from the football season, when Pac-12 officials were tested by a third party.

Walker told Out of Bounds in an email that each Pac-12 university schedules the game-day testing for officials based on their individual travel, lab and scheduling needs, such that they receive the results before tip-off.

“Typically it is between 2-4 hrs prior to the game,” Walker wrote.

Starting Dec. 31, the Pac-12 will have standby officials at all conference games, but the conference was unable to have a standby official at the Oregon-UCLA game due to the combination of game time, location, travel and COVID-19 testing, according to Walker.

The Pac-12 is a member of the Western Officiating Consortium, which also includes the Big Sky, Big West, Mountain West, WAC and WCC. The Pac-12 and the Mountain West started an officiating alliance in 2013, then the consortium was founded two years later, as the Big West, WAC and WCC joined the club.

“The consortium is designed to promote consistency - in training, development and evaluation - in officiating in the western U.S., and provide a larger, more diverse pool of officials for assignment,” stated a news release that announced the addition of the Big Sky to the consortium prior to the 2016-17 season.

Out of Bounds obtained a memo that WAC Deputy Commissioner Ron Loghry sent to the WAC’s member schools in mid-November, regarding the Western Officiating Consortium’s protocols for this season. The WAC established its own requirements for game-day operations but as a member of the consortium, the WAC also helped establish a document that aligned the consortium’s member conferences under one set of protocols for the officials who work in those conferences. Loghry noted that while the Western Officiating Consortium is for men’s basketball, the same guidelines would be used this season for women’s basketball.

In the memo, Loghry wrote the following sentence in bold font and he underlined it, too: “The key item all must be aware of is the host institution is responsible for testing the officials prior to every contest.” The timing of the testing needs to be communicated to the officials ahead of time, Loghry wrote, noting that the tests must either be antigen or rapid PCR tests.

“The officials will be instructed to possibly be asked to arrive at the arena up to 2.5 hours prior to game time, but each respective institution may have different protocols it establishes,” Loghry wrote. “The NCAA has established guidelines for working with a two-person crew should there be a positive result, and each coordinator has developed a roster of backup officials to hopefully respond as well. In addition, all officials will be participating in the NCAA Dashboard, which will track the testing throughout the season so replacements can happen immediately.”

However, while the Western Officiating Consortium’s protocols state that the host institution is responsible for the COVID-19 testing for officials prior to a game, on the opposite coast, some Big East administrators explicitly said that not only would some schools not be responsible for testing officials, but their legal counsels said they weren’t allowed to test officials.

Out of Bounds obtained notes from a Zoom call held in late October among members of a Big East COVID-19 task force, which noted that the guidance from the NCAA stated that officials who only work one game in a week only need to provide a negative PCR test result within three days of the game, or a negative antigen test on the day of the game.

“Our group felt that this was too relaxed,” the notes stated. “It was noted that this guidance was likely intended for Division II and Division III officials.”

“One concern that [UConn Director of Sports Medicine and Head Team Physician] Dr. [Deena] Casiero raised about testing officials was that some institutions may not permit their staff to physically conduct the test for officials on game day. It was noted that if the official tests positive, then the responsibility of managing the positive case falls to the institution. This includes reporting the positive test result to local health authorities, contact tracing, etc. This may be a discussion for institutional counsel.”

Prior to a call among Big East athletic directors in late October, Butler Athletic Director Barry Collier wrote an email to his fellow Big East ADs with Butler’s input on various protocols, ranging from the conference’s minimum standard for testing to clearance protocols after the holiday break. Collier wrote that officials should be tested just as often as players and coaches, which is at least three times per week.

Before the start of the season, Stadium’s Jeff Goodman spoke to some of the top officials in the country, who said they will be tested three times per week during the season, relying on FedEx for their results.

“Rapid PCR test on game day if available,” Collier wrote. “Reduce fees to cover testing. Must wear masks/whistle sock.”

Villanova AD Mark Jackson said the university discussed rapid PCR tests for officials on the day of games but it was decided they are “not going to happen,” he wrote.

“Multiple schools legal counsel state [sic] that home school's medical staff is not permitted to assume care for officials or test them (a positive test now becomes the liability of the school who did the testing and to follow-up with that official and assume his/her care),” Jackson wrote. “We will not be testing officials on campus for our games. The discussion today centered around either having the official find an urgent care nearby to get a test, or they call in the backup local official to come cover the game.

“Officiating with one less official is the last resort.”

Like many considerations in 2020, the testing procedures for officials varied based upon protocols, liability and different perspectives in different parts of the country.


Recap of the last newsletter

(Click the image below to read)

“Through Dec. 24, the FBS head coaches who have been fired this season were employed at schools that collectively won an average of 42.91 percent of their regular-season conference games (once again, their current conferences only) over the previous 10 seasons, which is nearly identical to the average conference winning percentage of the schools that fired their head coaches during the 2018-19 coaching carousel, down to the hundredth of a percentage point.”

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Thank you for reading this edition of Out of Bounds with Andy Wittry. If you enjoyed it, please consider sharing it on social media or sending it to a friend or colleague. Questions, comments and feedback are welcome at andrew.wittry@gmail.com or on Twitter.