Over the summer, Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban encouraged his fellow Alabama residents to get vaccinated against the coronavirus in a utility announcement.
The thought was that one of the most popular people in Alabama could help since the state has one of the lowest rates of vaccination people in the nation. The video shows cheerleaders, the Big Al mascot and the Bryant-Denny Stadium scene with the unmistakable message: Protection against COVID-19 can help everyone return to normal.
It is also an emphasis for defending the national champion Crimson Tide and all other teams hoping to minimize the risk of impact from COVID-19 this season after last year’s disruptive efforts that saw dozens of games postponed or canceled.
It is a priority, and in some cases a challenge. Universities are struggling with whether they can legally require students to be vaccinated before returning to campus, even though Notre Dame, Michigan, UCLA, Washington and others have taken that step.
Many others, certainly across the South, have not, let coaches like Saban emphasize that their vaccination decision is a personal choice, but one that can impact the team.
At the Southeast conference, Commissioner Greg Sankey said this week that six of the 14 football teams have at least 80% on their vaccination list – a number that “needs to grow and grow rapidly.”
The six teams include Alabama, since Saban indicated “very close to 90%” of his players are fully vaccinated, nearly triple the rate for the state’s general population.
Not all coaches or programs disclose their numbers on their respective leagues ’media days. That has varied greatly.
Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said his team has been about 55% vaccinated since six weeks ago.
“I don’t know where we are at right now,” Gundy said last week. “But as a person, they have to make a decision if it’s something they want to do. We all know the pros and cons of it.”
The disadvantages, besides personal health, include missing at least 10 days of practice and games in quarantine. And chores in regular tests. Non-vaccinated players will face several COVID-19 tests each week, similar to last season.
“I think the conflict of sticking something up your nose three times a week, all the headaches of wearing a mask, I think it puts people out,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said. “I don’t want anything to do with it.”
Coaches like Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley and Saban can point to other sports to highlight the potential impact of not being vaccinated. Saban, who missed the game against rival Auburn last year after a positive COVID-19 test, points to the New York Yankees with six players recently sidelined by the coronavirus and North Carolina State having left out of World Series College an.
“So each player has a personal decision to make to assess the relative risk of COVID in shots, and then they have a competitive decision to make about how it impacts their ability to play in games, because with the shot you probably have a better chance, ”Saban said.“ Without it, you have a greater chance that something can happen that can prevent you from being on the field, which doesn’t improve your personal development. Then how does it affect the team if you bring it to the team? “
Riley said his team saw “a huge uptick” in vaccinations after PGA Tour star Jon Rahm had to withdraw from the Memorial with a six-shot lead because of a positive COVID-19 test.
Riley said: “One day a guy will make a million and a half (dollars) and cruise in a six shot victory.” “Then all of a sudden he came out of there and was vaccinated the next week.”
He said that “a significant number” of his team are vaccinated.
“But, you know, the reality of the matter is we are football coaches and we are football players,” Riley said. “But if you don’t get the shot, you’ll keep them … a different standard and you’re going to have the opportunity to lose games and not be available.”
Georgia coach Kirby Smart had each of his vaccinated assistants talk to the team about the reasons for receiving the shots. Smart said his team “more than 85%” got vaccinated.
“What it’s really about is being able to save our season, being able to keep our players safe,” he said. “We want to keep our coaches and staff safe. We want to keep our family members safe, and that comes through vaccinations.”
The problem is not cut-and-dried for every coach. Washington State coach Nick Rolovich has said he will not participate on-site at next week’s Pac-12 media day in Los Angeles after he chooses not to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. A day earlier, Division II Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference said vaccines were mandatory for all of its athletes in 2021-22.
Miami coach Manny Diaz did not mince words about the importance of players being vaccinated. He said the Hurricanes, which open Sept. 4 against Alabama, will be above 85% vaccinated once some players receive their second shot.
“Whatever opinions we have are fine and dandy, but if you want to have a football team with as little chaos as possible, here’s a way to do it,” Diaz said.
Atlantic Coast conference commissioner Jim Phillips said the league’s athletic director discussed potential scenarios when a team might not be able to play a game. Sankey made it clear that ski passes – not dismissals, like last year – were on the table at the SEC this season: “This means your team needs to be healthy in competition, and if not, this game doesn’t will be scheduled. “
Miami security Bubba Bolden doesn’t like vaccinations or taking medication, but made an exception this time. Bolden said he understands why some teammates “are very against it.”
“I was kind of against it,” he said. “Then I saw some of my family members get it. Then obviously, I didn’t want to miss a game due to COVID. I didn’t want to get any of my teammates sick. … So I became selfish and decided to get it. “
AP sports writers Stephen Hawkins and Aaron Beard contributed to this report.