For the first time in months, the University of Oklahoma is dealing with a legitimate COVID-19 outbreak within its athletic department.
In the Sooners' most recent round of testing data, 35 positive tests within the program were confirmed, including 27 active cases among student-athletes. That number represents 9% of the total student-athlete contingent. The first inklings of a spike in cases had come a day prior to Thanksgiving, which was five days before the latest data became public.
Within the span of 24 hours last week, Oklahoma postponed six athletic contests. The men's basketball team had a home date with UTSA postponed and a road tilt with UCF cancelled. The women's basketball team had to withdraw from the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic in Vermillion, S.D., costing them three scheduled contests. And, of course, the Sooner football team's game with West Virginia was flexed to Dec. 12.
COVID-19 had seemingly taken the athletic department by storm almost overnight, and Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione confirmed that was the case.
“The interesting thing about last week was that it happened all at once," said Castiglione in a Thursday media conference. "I was getting the updates on testing results from football, and then virtually right after I received those results, I was starting to hear about a situation developing in both men’s and women’s basketball.”
Castiglione said that he then organized a call with Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby to arrange for postponements and cancellations.
Especially for an athletic program that had been remarkably immune from the impact of COVID-19, at least in comparison to other universities across the country, the Sooners' outbreak very much came out of the blue.
“It just proves that this virus is a ghost, and it can be anywhere it wants to be at any time," Castiglione continued. "Some weeks, we’ve had a little more of a concern than others.”
This week, those concerns are paramount, as the 35 positive cases are far and away the most since the university began releasing its athletic testing data. The football team is set to host their final home game of the season on Saturday, and the men's basketball team will open their season tonight against UTSA. After a week of competitive inactivity in both basketball and football, Castiglione and the rest of the department now hope that the Sooners' rash of cases will begin to abate.
“We’ve planned for a variety of different scenarios, disruptions, a bumpy road, whatever it might be," said Castiglione. "At every turn, every juncture, in every decision, we have reflected on that premise: are we providing the safest path forward?"
And nearly nine months after COVID-19 prompted the initial shutdown across collegiate athletics, Castiglione acknowledges that there are still unknowns across the board.
"We're learning about [the virus] in real time," he remarked. "So we're paying very close attention."
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