Pastner ecstatic over ACC’s plan for contact-tracing technology

For Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner and his unusual plan to conduct non-contact practices to try to avoid team-wide quarantines, the ACC has delivered a way out.

The conference will have its men’s and women’s basketball teams use wearable proximity-tracking devices during practices and games in order to be able to measure exposure to potentially infectious teammates, staff or opponents, Pastner told the AJC. The use of the contact-tracing technology will enable teams to gain some maneuverability with the NCAA’s guidance that, in the event of a positive COVID-19 test from any player or “inner-bubble” staff member — or opponent that has played against the team within the past 48 hours — the entire team should be quarantined for two weeks. Pastner said it will be required in all conference games.

“I think it’s great,” Pastner said.

The devices are made by German technology company Kinexon. They’ll enable teams to measure the proximity of their players and staff to a potentially infectious teammate, staff member and, at least in ACC games, an opponent, as well as the duration of exposure inside of six feet.

In the event of a positive test, teams can identify which players or staff had high-risk exposure and which did not, which can help them make decisions on quarantining the identified individuals rather than the whole team, which would be necessary without that data. The prospect of the team-wide two-week quarantine has loomed over college basketball as a season wrecker, as a single positive test could prevent a team from playing five or six games out of a regular-season schedule that this season is at most 27 games.

“Instead of saying ‘We’ve all got to shut down,’ — you don’t want to shut down — but maybe it’s two or three (players) and not an entire team,” Pastner said. “I think it’s a real game-changer. It’s a real positive step.”

He was quick to clarify that the final determination on quarantining players or teams will still rest with medical staff. But the data from the devices can help medical teams make more informed decisions about individual players.

“There’s no downside to it,” he said.

Pastner’s team has received the devices and practiced Sunday with it, including some time doing contact drills. Pastner’s concern about the ramifications of a positive test led him earlier in the preseason to make the highly unorthodox decision to not have any contact practices. That approach would keep players socially distanced to try to avoid having to automatically quarantine the whole team in the event of a positive test. While it would have helped keep the Jackets safe, there’s no telling how it would have impacted the team’s play. ACC Network analyst Luke Hancock expressed some skepticism about the plan last week.

“He’s either going to look like an absolute genius or a dummy,” he said.

There is plenty riding on this season for Pastner, in his fifth season. With a veteran team, the Jackets are confident in their chances to make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2010.

Credit: Georgia Tech Athletics

Highlights of four of the top returners to the Yellow Jackets for the 2020-21 college basketball season.

Pastner said that, when the Yellow Jackets open up Wednesday against Georgia State at McCamish Pavilion, Tech will have enough devices for the Panthers to also wear. It’s his plan that all non-conference opponents will use them against Tech.

This past week, the SEC announced that it would use Kinexon technology for its men’s and women’s basketball teams for the same purpose. The conference has already been using it for football. The devices are about the size of a watch face, according to a release from the SEC, and can be built into equipment or uniforms for practices and games. They can also be set to flash or beep if the wearer comes within six feet of another wearer.