Nick Saban, the feared and renowned football coach at Alabama, said he tested positive for coronavirus on Wednesday.
But there is a game on Saturday. A very big game, in fact: No 3. Georgia at No. 2 Alabama, a matchup that could help shape the College Football Playoff.
Yet Saban, frequently shown on television as a scowling sideline taskmaster, might have to watch from home.
How sick is he?
Alabama said from the moment it announced Saban’s positive test on Wednesday that the 68-year-old coach was asymptomatic. Saban spoke to reporters on a Zoom call a few hours after he received the test result, and he made his regular star turn on a radio show Thursday night.
“I don’t have any symptoms. I don’t have a fever,” Saban said Thursday. “They do all those oxygen tests and all that stuff, and everything’s normal.”
Contrary to some internet speculation, there is no evidence that Alabama’s announcement was a ruse to play mind games with Georgia.
So, can Saban do anything right now?
He coached practice via Zoom after he tested positive and headed home, watching with a camera angle that allowed him to see all 22 players.
“You see a lot more because you’re seeing the big picture rather than specific things,” Saban, who normally works at the front side of the defense, said Thursday night. “So it was a little interesting. I guess that’s why Coach Bryant always stood up in that tower.”
Bear Bryant won six national championships during his 25 years at Alabama. Saban, now in his 14th season in Tuscaloosa, has won five. Alabama’s campus already features bronze statues of both men.
Would they really let Saban call in from home during the game?
No. Steve Shaw, the N.C.A.A.’s national coordinator of football officials, issued a rules interpretation that said that a homebound coach could not “call into the press box or the sideline for anything related to coaching purposes.”
Shaw also concluded that a coach could not use videoconferencing technology to beam himself into the locker room during games. The ban on “any virtual session with the team,” which is related to broader limits on the use of technology by coaches on game days, begins 90 minutes before kickoff.
That must be a conspiracy against Alabama.
Nah. Shaw issued his memo in September, and Mike Norvell, Florida State’s coach, missed a Sept. 26 game at Miami after he tested positive for the virus.
Les Miles, the Kansas coach who tested positive this month, said Friday that although he had received medical approval to travel to Saturday’s game at West Virginia, he would stay behind in Lawrence because there was “too much unknown about this virus for me to feel 100 percent confident that I won’t transmit it to someone who comes into close contact with me.”
Saban, while being careful not to criticize anyone directly, said Thursday that there “ought to be a better way” for an isolated head coach to play a role on game day.
“You ought to be able to have some kind of communication with the sidelines, just like I have communication with somebody on the field during practice,” he said. “I can’t directly talk to a player, but I can say, ‘Hey, tell 22 that he was supposed to reroute the guy’ or whatever. You can’t have any of that, and that doesn’t seem quite right.”
What about that guy who coached from a mechanical lift in Mississippi?
He was a high school coach beyond the N.C.A.A.’s reach. Also, he had been exposed to the virus but had not tested positive, according to The Clarion Ledger newspaper in Jackson, Miss.
Didn’t Hugh Freeze coach from what was basically a hospital bed?
Yes. But that wasn’t during a pandemic, and other people could still be near Freeze, the Liberty coach.
Is there any way people can get out of isolation before the game?
There is. The Southeastern Conference’s health and safety protocols include a multiday procedure that can lead to an asymptomatic person who tested positive exiting isolation quicker than anticipated.
Within 24 hours of a positive result, the person may take a second polymerase chain reaction test, which experts consider the gold standard for detecting the virus. If that test returns a negative result, the person can take two more P.C.R. tests, each separated by 24 hours.
If those tests also show negative results and the person remains asymptomatic, the player, coach or staff member “may be released from isolation and medically cleared to return to athletics activities only,” according to the SEC’s guidelines.
Must be a conspiracy to help Alabama.
As compelling of a story as that would be, it wouldn’t be true. The SEC has frequently revised its medical protocols, and the league’s chancellors and presidents approved the procedure for asymptomatic people on Oct. 8. The conference released its current standards on Monday, two days before Saban’s positive test.
Alabama has not said whether Saban tested negative on Thursday or Friday.
If Saban really is absent, who’s in charge for Alabama?
Saban said that Steve Sarkisian, Alabama’s offensive coordinator and a former head coach at Southern California and Washington, would take the lead.
Of course, Saban also left the slightest hint that there could be a surprise.
“I would hate not to be at the game on Saturday,” he said, “if that’s what this turns out to be.”