HOWOVER, Ala. — Over the summer, Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban urged his fellow Alabama residents to get vaccinated against the coronavirus in a public service announcement.
The thinking was that one of the most popular ones in Alabama might help because the state has one of the fewest vaccinated people in the country. The video shows cheerleaders, Big Al mascots and scenes from Bryant-Denny Stadium with the unmistakable message: Protecting against COVID-19 can help everyone get back to normal.
It’s a point of emphasis for defending national champions Crimson Tide and every other team hoping to reduce the risk of impacts from COVID-19 this season after disrupting efforts last year, with dozens of games postponed or canceled was done.
This is a priority, and in some cases a challenge. Universities are grappling with whether they can legally require students to vaccinate before returning to campuses, though Notre Dame, Michigan, UCLA, Washington and others have taken steps.
Many others, certainly not across the South, leave coaches like Saban to insist that the vaccination decision is not a personal choice, but one that could affect the team.
In the Southeastern Conference, commissioner Greg Sankey said this week that six of the 14 football teams have vaccinated at least 80% of their rosters – a number that “needs to grow and grow rapidly.”
The six teams included Alabama as Saban indicated that “close to 90%” of their players are fully vaccinated, which is nearly three times the total population of the state.
Not every coach or program disclosed their numbers on the media days of their respective leagues. Those who did varied quite widely.
Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said his team had been vaccinated about 55% as of six weeks ago.
“I don’t know where we are now,” Gundy said last week. “But as an individual, they have to decide whether they want to do something like this. We all know the advantages and disadvantages.”
In addition to personal health, the opposition includes at least 10 days of practice and sports in quarantine. and routine test work. Players who are not vaccinated face multiple COVID-19 tests weekly, just like last season.
“I think the struggle of sticking something on your nose three times a week, all the headache of wearing a mask, I think it makes people tired,” said Pitt’s coach Pat Narduzzi. “I don’t want anything to do with it.”
Coaches such as Lincoln Riley and Saban of Oklahoma may point to other sports to emphasize the potential impact of not being vaccinated. Saban, who missed the game against rival Auburn last year after a positive COVID-19 test, pointed to the New York Yankees being forced out of the College World Series by the recent coronavirus and North Carolina State. The players were sidelined.
“So each player has an individual decision to evaluate the risk of COVID relative to the vaccine, and then they have a competitive judgment of how it affects their ability to play in sports, because with the vaccine you have There’s probably a better chance,” Saban said. “Without that, you have a huge chance that something might happen that could keep you from being on the field, that doesn’t enhance your personal growth. If you bring in the team, how does it affect the team?”
Riley said his team saw “a huge increase” in vaccinations after PGA Tour star Jon Rahm withdrew from Memorial with a six-shot lead due to a positive COVID-19 test.
“One day a man is going to cruise to a half a million (dollars) and six-shot victory,” Riley said. “And then all of a sudden he left and he got vaccinated the next week.”
He said “a significant amount” of his team have been vaccinated.
“But, you know, the reality of the matter is that we are football coaches and we are football players,” Riley said. “And if you don’t get vaccinated, you … are being held to a different standard and you’ll have the opportunity to lose the game and not be available.”
Georgia coach Kirby Smart asked each of his vaccination assistants to talk to the team about their reasons for getting the shot. Smart said his team has been vaccinated “over 85%.”
“It’s really about 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 vaccination.”
Miami coach Manny Diaz did not say anything about the importance of vaccinating players. He said against Alabama starting on Sept. 4 in the Hurricanes, some players would have more than 85% vaccination after getting their second shot.
“Whatever opinion we have is fine and dandy, but if you want a football team with the least amount of disruption, here’s a way to do it,” Diaz said.
Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner Jim Phillips said the league’s athletic directors discussed possible scenarios when a team may not be able to play a game. Sankey was clear that forfeitures – not postponed as last year – were on the table at the SEC this season: “It means your team needs to be healthy to compete, and if not, that game is not rescheduled.” Will be done.”
Miami safety Bubba Bolden doesn’t like taking vaccines or drugs, but has made an exception this time. Bolden said he understands why some teammates are “very against it.”
He said, ‘I was against it. “And then I see some of my family members get it. And then obviously I didn’t want to miss a game because of COVID. I didn’t want to make any of my teammates sick. … so I became selfless and decided to get it.”
AP Sports Writers Stephen Hawking and Aaron Beard contributed to this report.