Sunday, December 5

The SEC would do well to follow Greg Sankey’s ‘vaccination motivation’

SEC Football Media Days opened Monday in Hoover, Alabama, the last chance for the conference to remember through banners, signs and billboards that often repeated mantra: It just means more.

However, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey reinforced a practical message for 2021. He even dropped an F-bomb – “stray” – to clarify that point.

“With six weeks to go, now is the time to seek full vaccination,” Sankey said in his opening remarks. “We know that nothing is perfect, but the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine is an important and incredible product of science. It is not political football.”

It’s a powerful statement given that it comes in a region where 10 of the SEC’s 11 states in the country voted Republicans in the 2020 election. It’s not about politics or personal decisions.

It’s about soccer. How much more does it mean?

Sankey proceeded to compile statistics related to the COVID-19 vaccine and SEC member institutions. Six of the 14 schools at the conference have reached the 80 percent vaccination threshold. The next six weeks will determine how college football fits into the vaccination equation across the South.

Perhaps the purest message in favor of vaccines should be: “It only takes one game.”

Ask the State of North Carolina, which had to lose its place in the College World Series. That’s the same standard that this football season will operate by in 2021, a message the Big 12 sent out on their Media Days last week.

“We still have roster lows that exist, just like last year,” Sankey said. “What I have identified for consideration among our membership is that we removed those minimums from the roster and you are expected to play as scheduled. That means your team must be healthy to compete, and if not, that game will not be rescheduled. So So, to get rid of the game, at this point the missing word comes up. That is not a policy. What you see are the bookends for decision making. ”

Loss is not a sure thing, but Sankey offered it as a not-so-veiled threat. What else can the conference do at that time? Imagine how a loss would be received in SEC country. Keep in mind that last year, the SEC had two games that were postponed just four weeks on the schedule. Imagine if Florida-LSU, one of the SEC’s best games of the season, wasn’t rescheduled in 2020.

The SEC could afford to include COVID-19 postponements in last year’s schedule, a 10-game conference schedule with enough built-in flexibility for its conference champion to make it to the college football playoff. Alabama, of course, won the national championship. Texas A&M also nearly got a playoff spot.

The SEC had one of the best plans for possibly the most eventful season in college football history. The only two games not played in 2020 were Vanderbilt at Georgia and Ole Miss at Texas A&M. The difference this season is that flexibility does not exist. Texas A&M and Georgia, which finished No. 5 and No. 9 in the final rankings in the college football playoffs last season, could need that last game a bit more in 2021. The margin of error is less than in 2020, even if the COVID-19 threat still exists.

“We haven’t built in the kind of weather we did last year, particularly at the end of the season, to accommodate the disruption,” Sankey said. “Unless we do that, our teams will have to be fully prepared to play their season as scheduled, so the motivation for vaccination is in my comments.”

Will the other schools listen? Florida coach Dan Mullen did not share whether his team had reached that 80 percent threshold. Every other Hoover coach will be asked the same question, and the only voice that carries more weight than Sankey’s is that of Alabama coach Nick Saban. He had COVID-19 last season and has already appeared in a commercial encouraging fans who want full stadiums to be vaccinated.

That should be all the motivation players need, regardless of their personal policies. All it takes is that game, and it could keep one of those teams out of the college football playoff. For a conference that loves this statistic – 13 national soccer championships since the BCS began in 1998 – it should be an easy decision when it comes to hitting that 80 percent threshold.

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