In response to a series of questions from ESPN about their COVID-19 testing protocols, nearly half of the 65 schools in the Power 5 conferences declined to share data about how many positive tests their programs have had to date.
Nearly a third of the schools overall declined to provide information about protocols in addition to withholding the number of athletes who have tested positive. Twenty-one schools that declined to provide data are in the conferences that plan to play college sports this fall: the ACC, Big 12 and SEC.
Many of the schools that declined to give data to ESPN cited federal student privacy laws, university protocols and other confidentiality considerations, although legal experts say those laws shouldn't be applied to such a request because the data wouldn't identify specific students.
"We've just followed our university protocols when we do have positive tests, whether they be staff, student-athletes or what have you," said Greg McGarity, athletics director at Georgia, one of the schools that declined to answer any of the nine survey questions. "They're reported through the university channels, and everything is done by the book."
Among the questions ESPN asked school administrators were how many tests have been administered since the school started testing athletes; how many athletes have tested positive; what protocols the department has in place once an athlete tests positive; how many athletes have heart-related issues due to the coronavirus; and whether the school shares data with government health officials.
Natalie Dean, a biostatistician and assistant professor at the University of Florida College of Public Health & Health Professions, said knowing testing information about athletes versus regular students is important.
"These teams are interacting closely. You can't do socially distanced football. It's a different set of risks than kids coming back to their classrooms and taking their classes," Dean told ESPN. "It also informs decisions about whether schools should be playing against each other, because there's interaction that way. It's just a different set of considerations."
Alabama coach Nick Saban, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, Ohio State coach Ryan Day and Nebraska coach Scott Frost have said their players are, or feel, less at risk of contracting the coronavirus playing football than they would be if the season isn't played. Sean Magee, Michigan's associate athletic director for football, said Saturday that the football team had zero positive tests after administering 822 tests in August.
Michigan and Clemson were among the 10 schools that answered all survey questions pertaining to testing volume, the number of positive results, hospitalizations and whether any athletes had tested positive for post COVID-19 heart conditions. Alabama provided ESPN with testing data for athletics but did not separate athletes from coaches. Nebraska and Ohio State declined to provide testing data to ESPN, citing privacy concerns.
Among the 10 schools that completely answered all of ESPN's questions, four still plan to play fall sports -- Clemson, Iowa State, Missouri and Oklahoma. The six other schools that fully responded are in the Big Ten (Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin) and the Pac-12 (Oregon State and Stanford), which postponed fall sports.