Saban Cleared to Coach

Three negative tests have overturned an initial false positive.

When Alabama Coach Nick Saban tested positive for COVID-19 Wednesday, it looked like he was going to be unable to direct the Crimson Tide’s match against the Georgia Bulldogs tonight. Thankfully, it turns out that test was a false positive and he’s now been cleared.

ESPN (“Alabama football coach Nick Saban cleared to return immediately after third negative COVID-19 test“):

Alabama coach Nick Saban has been cleared to coach in Saturday’s game against No. 3 Georgia following a third negative COVID-19 test Saturday, the school announced.

Alabama team physician Dr. Jimmy Robinson said in a statement that Saban, who turns 69 later this month, had negative tests Thursday, Friday and Saturday following an initial positive test Wednesday.

The school added that two additional tests, from Thursday and Friday, were found to be negative at a separate lab.

“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,” Robinson said. “… 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.”

Saturday’s test was flown to an SEC-approved lab in Mobile, Alabama, for a faster turnaround time. The school said the initial positive test came from an outside lab that the school uses to supplement the SEC’s mandated testing.

Under SEC protocols, the initial positive test on Wednesday is now considered a false positive after Saban remained asymptomatic with three consecutive negative tests. That allows him to coach the No. 2 Crimson Tide in Saturday night’s nationally televised game against Georgia at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Given that the Tide played at Ole Miss last Saturday and that team had a massive outbreak of the disease shortly after, it seemed reasonable to assume a connection. But it now seems that it was just a bad test.

Indeed, after several players tested positive coming back from their extended break, the team has enacted strict protocols, including daily testing, with zero positive tests since. It seemed odd that the soon-to-be-69-year-old head coach (and the school’s athletic director*) were the only ones affected.


*One presumes his test was a false positive as well but I have seen no reports on the matter. The urgency for someone in an off-field position is presumably a bit less.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. CSK says:

    Please bear in mind that I’m not speaking of James (as an Alabama alum) or Steven (as an Alabama resident), but for those of us who don’t live in Alabama (or Georgia or Nebraska), the adulation of college football coaches seems a bit excessive. These guys aren’t deities.

    Like the vast majority of northeasterners, I couldn’t name a single college football coach around here if you put a gun to my head.

  2. The protocols established and precautions taken all seem quite reasonable. I appreciate Coach Saban’s dedication to keeping himself and his team safe and healthy, and for setting a good example.

  3. Teve says:

    Three positive tests have overturned an initial false positive.

  4. James Joyner says:

    @CSK: College football is the second-most popular sport in the country, behind professional football. And there’s arguably no sport where coaching is more important, both in terms of recruiting but also development, strategy, and game management. (Conversely, most of us could probably “coach” LeBron James to basketball success.)

  5. CSK says:

    @James Joyner:
    I wasn’t actually speaking of the popularity of college football. This is what I was talking about:

    “I’m not one to compare God to a coach. But in Alabama, the persona of Nick Saban is God-like. That’s just the truth.” — Shannon Villa

    Sure, Saban’s a great coach. But this is a little excessive, don’t you think? The man’s not Jonas Salk or Louis Pasteur or Edward Jenner or Charles Drew.

  6. James Joyner says:

    @CSK: In poorer communities, spectator sports play an outsized role. It’s probably even more true in places like Alabama, where it’s a key source of identity.

  7. CSK says:

    @James Joyner:
    Well, there’s a certain pathos in identifying with a college football team and its coach, but it’s certainly better than identifying with George Wallace or Roy Moore.

    And it’s true that many people in my part of the world get giddy when the Patriots, Red Sox, Celtics, or Bruins win a championship. But the reverence and identification aren’t there. I have yet to meet anyone who thinks Bill Belichick is God-like.

  8. Just nutha ignint cracker says:


    I have yet to meet anyone who thinks Bill Belichick is God-like.

    It may be that you simply don’t travel in such circles. I certainly knew Seattle sports fans who thought that way about Chuck Knox (Seahawks), Don James (Washington Huskies), and even Jim Owens and Darrell Royal (Washington Huskies dark ages coaches).

  9. CSK says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    That could be it, though I do know many avid, avid Red Sox and Patriots fans.

    I read somewhere once that the reason for the southern and midwestern obsession with college football teams is that the NFL didn’t expand there until well after it established franchises in the northeast and the west coast (with the exception of Chicago). That makes sense.

    Are the Falcons or the Bulldogs the bigger deal in Georgia? It seems, from what I’ve heard, that the Bulldogs are.

  10. @CSK: You will get no disagreement from me.

  11. The one thing football (both college and pro) has illustrated: the way to control the virus is constant testing and rigorous contact tracing. It is a shame that we couldn’t have put more national effort into doing that for the whole population.

  12. CSK says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    Indeed. And I’m willing to bet that among our most avid college and pro football fans are some of our most vociferous anti-maskers and Covid-deniers.

    Ah, the wonders of cognitive dissonance.

  13. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @CSK: Can’t speak for Hotlanta, but in Seattle, the Seahawks and pro sports in general, have become so very expensive that being a fan outside of watching on TV is prohibitive for most people. The last article that I read on the coming NHL franchise was saying that the “cheap” seats were expected to sell for $50 apiece. The last time a friend of mine and I priced a Mariners’ game (Baseball) seats high in the outfield were going to cost about $45 each, but that was in the late 90s. A teacher that I worked with used to say that a trip to Seattle to see a baseball game was about $500 for the family–provided they drove back to Longview, roughly four hours away, after the game. In that type of a market setting, college is likely to be a bigger deal simply for economic reasons. But going to see the Falcons or another pro team may be a dream for people, I don’t know.

  14. JKB says:

    Given that the Tide played at Ole Miss last Saturday and that team had a massive outbreak of the disease shortly after, it seemed reasonable to assume a connection.

    That’s not reasonable at all. Transmission of SARS 2.0 is mostly via prolonged, face-to-face contact with spittle making activities such as loud talking or close talking in a loud environment. The virus can build up in an enclosed space if people are shedding and transmit via aerosols (which aren’t impacted by non-N95+ masks) and over a sufficiently long exposures people can acquire a significant viral load. There is no good evidence of transmission via surfaces outside medical settings.

    Why would head coaches expose themselves to prolonged face-to-face contact with the other team or spend time in poorly ventilated spaces with the other team (from out of state)?

  15. CSK says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    I wouldn’t argue the point about attendance at major league sporting events being expensive, but it’s moot. The southern fetish for college football, which is what I’m speaking of, existed when it was a lot cheaper to go to a pro event than it is now. It existed even when there were no pro events within 100s of miles, which is probably the explanation for it existing at all.

    I have no objection to rooting for the Crimson Tide. But ffs, Nick Saban isn’t God.

  16. de stijl says:

    When I moved there was this huge deal at work about Iowa vs. Iowa State. There were prizes and highly encouraged by local management.

    1. I did not give a shit.
    2. It’s college football.

    If you grew up in a city with an NFL team college football generally is pretty niche. Especially if that NFL team is fairly successful over time.

    My lack of engagement was noted. This is a big deal to the locals.

    At the time I was working with a man from California and a woman from Ukraine on a long term project that did involve the larger team much. We decided to engage mostly for political reasons – I brought it up for PR and amity reasons. They bit.

    We auctioned off our votes (votes consisting of which shirt to wear on the Friday before).

    The method we used was best of five Rock-em-Sock-em Robots tourney for each vote. Swap outs acceptable.

    Me, Olena, and Luke were blatantly selling our votes to the victor in a super-obvious way.

    But our little sub-team of outsiders ingratiated ourselves to the larger whole. Became approachable and less threatening. We made a super fun Friday afternoon. Side betting pools flourished.

    Olena was MC, I did blow by blow commentary, Luke was hype man. Olena’s version of ‘Let’s get ready to rumble!” was so bad it was great.

    As to who won the game. Didn’t matter to me. We won – our tiny team were no longer “outsiders”.

  17. de stijl says:

    Allegiance is weird.

    I gave up on NHL hockey when the North Stars got sold and moved to Dallas. Made me more anti-capitalist.

    The Gophers and Bulldogs are pitching a very excellent form of hockey – much more free-flowing.

    Even D3 hockey in Minnesota is shockingly good. Hamline vs St. Thomas is a thing I structure my week around even if I only see it via streaming.

    When I was a kid we had no NBA team and in the 70s there rules around travelling were so lax as to be off-putting. To this day I prefer college basketball.

    I was a fair weather fan when Garnett and Szczerbiak were ascendant. Since then the T-Wolves have been consistently mediocre.