OU football: Nine players test positive for COVID-19 as team returns
NORMAN — A week ago, OU coach Lincoln Riley was in a tough position.
There was plenty of uncertainty swirling about the immediate future of college football, and he knew at the least his team’s opener with Missouri State would be pushed back a couple weeks. Preseason camp was going to have to take a pause eventually to facilitate the number of camp practices allowed by the NCAA.
Riley could keep his players on campus, though they were about to be surrounded by a lot more people as the general student population began returning.
Or he could send them home for a few days.
Riley understood OU’s so-far-sterling record with COVID-19 testing could be in danger.
Those fears were founded after he sent his players home for six days. Upon their return Friday, a round of tests revealed nine players positive for the virus. Several other players have been isolated after coming in contact with players or others who tested positive.
There had just been one positive test for OU football after the initial intake testing when players returned to campus in preparations for beginning offseason workouts July 1.
That positive test came just before Riley sent his players home until Friday.
"It'd be pretty easy to say right now that I regret it," Riley said Saturday of his decision. "I also feel like if I keep a team hemmed up here for a six- or seven-week training camp that I'd probably regret that too."
Riley said all of the positives have been tracked as "community-based" infections and that more than 75 percent of the team stayed in Norman during the break.
The outbreak highlights the difficulties of containing the virus on a large team with the OU general student population returning to campus this week.
"The reality is our players are not going to be in this facility all the time," Riley said. "That is the reality. We don't have a bubble. We don't have a hotel that we can put them in and not let them out other than to come to class and come here.
"For us, it's going to be, we as a staff, we as a team, have to do a better job of educating and mitigating as much as we possibly can when we're not in this facility. It's got to be a learning experience for us."
Riley said no players had yet opted out of the 2020 season but that conversations continued.
Saturday, Riley and team physicians met with the players as the testing results came back and later met with parents.
“One thing we’ve told our families, our players, ‘We’re not all in the same situations,’” Riley said. “Everybody’s got to look at this individually to make the decision that’s best for them and our deal is we’re going to be supportive.”
Though most players will be taking most if not all of their classes online, the return of students to campus ramps up the chance for spread.
“What we’ve learned up to this point is, when they’re here, we’ve done a pretty good job, we’ve got to continue to do well and get better," Riley said. "When they’re out of here, that’s been the most danger. The numbers game becomes much more difficult anyway you slice it when the students all get back to campus, like what’s happening with our university right now. Do I regret it at the end of the day? I know why we made the decision. Our players and our staff, when we’re out of this facility, have got to do a great job, whether it’s a two-day break or whether we’re just out there for a night and back in the morning.
“We have to be diligent, and this is, obviously, a great example of that.”
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