BIRMINGHAM- Speaking on the first day of the SEC's annual Football Media Days, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey encouraged fans, coaches and players to get vaccinated amid the recent COVID-19 surge in much of the South. Sankey said continued vaccination is critical to stamping out the pandemic and getting back to normal sports experiences.
"Let me be clear to our fans, to our coaches, to our staff members and to our student-athletes: COVID-19 vaccines are widely available," said Sankey. "They're proven to be highly effective. And when people are fully vaccinated, we all have the ability to avoid serious health risks, reduce the virus' spread and maximize our chances of returning to a normal college football experience and to a normal life."
The SEC reduced its football schedule to 10 games in 2020 with extra time built in make up games that were cancelled due to COVID outbreaks. Sankey said that will not be the case in 2021.
"We still have roster minimums that exist just like last year," said Sankey, referring to the SEC's minimum number of players at certain positions that were required to play safely in 2020. "What I've identified for consideration among our membership is we remove those roster minimums and you're expected to play as scheduled."
"That means your team needs to be healthy enough to compete, and if not, that game won't be rescheduled," continued Sankey. "And thus, to dispose of the game, the 'forfeit' word comes up at this point."
Sankey said that only 6 of the SEC's 14 football teams have reached the 80 percent vaccination threshold. He said that number needs to "grow and grow rapidly". Sankey drew a direct line between vaccination rates and the likelihood of the season going off without a hitch
"We've not built in the the kind of time that we did last year, particularly at the end of the season, to accommodate disruption," said Sankey. "And unless we're going to do that, our teams have to be fully prepared to play their season as scheduled, which is why embedded in my remarks is the vaccination motivation."
Sankey reiterated that teams and fans reaching full vaccination is what gives the SEC the best chance to compete the 2021 season without delay or interruption.
"It's not a political football, and we need to do our part to support a healthy society because, as we look back, the potential absence of college sports last year caused us to think about not losing sight of the lifelong experiences."
The first SEC team scheduled to play this season is Tennessee when the Volunteers host Bowling Green on Thursday September 2nd. Missouri opens its season at Faurot Field against Central Michigan on Saturday September 4th.