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It’s a bad day for Saban, SEC teams

The Associated Press

Alabama coach Nick Saban and athletic director Greg Byrne have tested positive for COVID-19, three days before the second-ranked Crimson Tide is set to face No. 3 Georgia in a clash of Southeastern Conference and national powers.

Both said their tests Wednesday morning came back positive, but Saban said he didn’t have any symptoms by late afternoon.

“I immediately left work and isolated at home,” Saban said.

The second-ranked Crimson Tide is set to face No. 3 Georgia on Saturday, and may be without their iconic 68-year-old coach who remained scheduled to talk with the media Wednesday evening.

Saban said he informed the team via a Zoom session at 2 p.m. Wednesday and that offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian will oversee game preparations while he works from home.

Sarkisian is a former head coach at Washington and USC. Saban has led Alabama to five national titles since taking over the program in 2007, and also won one at LSU.

It was a nother body blow for the SEC, which had postponed two games this week already: No. 10 Florida against defending national champion LSU and Missouri-Vanderbilt.

Alabama’s head trainer Jeff Allen and medical director Jimmy Robinson said in a joint statement that Saban and Byrne were the only initial positive tests.

“All individuals who are considered high risk contacts have been notified and will follow quarantine guidelines,” the statement said. “We will follow the SEC’s Return to Activity and Medical Guidance Task Force Protocol for testing asymptomatic positives.”

Byrne said he would “remain at home and follow all guidelines.”

“We’ve been diligent about mask wearing and social distancing from the start and want to continue to encourage you all to take the necessary precautions to help stop the spread of this virus for yourself and those around you,” the 48-year-old AD said.

It was also tough on the Southeastern Conference which has had to postpone two games in the last three days because of positive COVID-19 tests.

No. 10 Florida’s game against defending national champion LSU was postponed Wednesday to tentatively Dec. 12 after the SEC postponed Missouri-Vanderbilt on Monday. More positive tests could derail other games after the league waited until the end of September to kick off the season due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Gators started testing daily Sunday and paused activities Tuesday after 19 positives with about a dozen more quarantined through contract tracing. Athletic director Scott Stricklin said they had 18 positives among scholarship players plus three walk-ons for a total of 21.

That left the Gators with less than 50 scholarship players available. Stricklin said it can sneak up on a team in a hurry and the key is hitting the brake.

“The SEC schedule was set up with something with an event like this in mind,” Stricklin said.

“As much as we want to give our kids the opportunity to compete, we understand this isn’t a normal year and we’re going to have to have the ability to adapt to unusual circumstances such as this.”

Florida is hoping those numbers don’t rise further, not that coach Dan Mullen wanted to speculat e on the tests.

“We’re certainly hoping and everybody that we’ve worked for getting these tests back before we conduct any team activity to make sure that we’re keeping everyone as safe as possible,” Mullen said.

Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason is going through a similar situation.

He said his Commodores (0-3) are a “shell” after he had an estimated group of players in the “high 40s” available for practice Wednesday with a couple of coaches involved in this outbreak. Vanderbilt has an open date Oct. 24 and won’t play again until hosting Mississippi on Oct. 31.

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