SEC says false positive: Nick Saban to coach from sideline after fifth negative COVID-19 test

The Southeastern Conference has deemed University of Alabama head coach Nick Saban eligible to coach from the sideline for the highly anticipated University of Georgia versus University of Alabama football game Saturday night.

Saban announced Wednesday that he tested positive for COVID-19. He said at the time that he had no symptoms and planned to isolate at his home in Tuscaloosa.

The 68-year-old head coach said he was “very surprised” by the positive test result.

“I personally think I did a really good job of trying to manage my personal space,” Saban said Wednesday. “And that would be what I’ve informed our players to try to do because you have to respect this disease and the spread of this disease.”

The university football team’s athletic director, Greg Byrne, also tested positive.

In the following days, no other personnel or players tested positive for COVID-19.

Saban was retested Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Each of his follow-up tests yielded negative results, Alabama team physician Dr. Jimmy Robinson said Saturday.

Robinson also said that Saban’s results were sent to two different labs. He suggested Saban’s Wednesday results reflected a false positive:

“Upon evaluation today, Coach Saban remains completely asymptomatic. To address the potential for a false positive, the SEC Return to Activity and Medical Guidance Task Force Protocol allows for follow-up testing to clear the individual’s return to activity. That protocol requires three negative PCR tests 24 hours apart.

"Because Coach Saban remained asymptomatic, 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.

“Due to the fact that Coach Saban has remained completely symptom-free and had five negative PCR tests, split between two separate labs, the initial test from Wednesday is considered a false positive under the SEC protocols. Again, that initial positive result came from an outside lab we’ve used to supplement the SEC mandated testing. We have been in constant communication with the conference office throughout this process to ensure compliance with all applicable protocols. In accordance with the SEC Return to Activity and Medical Guidance Task Force Protocol and with the approval of The University of Alabama System Health and Safety Task Force, Coach Saban is medically cleared to safely return to activity effective immediately.”

No details have been released regarding retesting for Byrne.

The Crimson Tide and the Bulldogs, ranked No. 2 and No. 3 respectively, are both undefeated so far this season. They will face off Saturday at 8 p.m. ET.

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