The SEC Football Days opened Monday in Hoover, Alabama, the latest chance to remind the conference with banners, signs and billboards of that oft-repeated mantra: It just means more.
SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey, however, reinforced the factual message for 2021. He even dropped an F-bomb – a “forfeit” – to drive home to that point.
“There are six weeks left until the start, now is the time to seek a full vaccination,” Sankey said in his opening remarks. “We know nothing is perfect, but the effectiveness of COVID-19 is an important and amazing product of science. It’s not political football.”
It’s a strong statement given that it comes in a region where 10 of the 11 states in the SEC voted for Republicans in the 2020 election. This is not about politics or personal decisions.
It’s about football. How much more does that mean?
Sankey continued to publish statistics regarding the COVID-19 vaccine and SEC member institutions. Six of the 14 schools at the conference reached the 80 percent vaccination threshold. The next six weeks will determine how college football will fit into the vaccination equation across the South.
Perhaps the purest message of a pro-vaccine should be, “It only takes one game.”
Ask the state of North Carolina, which had to lose its place in World Series College. That is the same standard that this football season will operate in 2021, is the message that Big 12 sent at its Media Days last week.
“We still have the minimum lineup that exists, just like last year,” Sankey said. “What I recognized for consideration among our membership is that we are removing those lineup minima and you are expected to play according to schedule. This means that your team must be healthy to compete, and if not, that match will not be rescheduled. Therefore, in order to solved the games, at this point there is a word of failure. It’s not politics. What you see are bookmakers making decisions. ”
Confiscation is not a sure thing, but Sankey offered it as a not-so-covert threat. What else can the conference do at that point? Imagine how money would be received in the SEC state. Note that last year the SEC had two games postponed for just four weeks. Imagine that Florida-LSU – one of the best games of the SEC season – has not been rescheduled for 2020.
The SEC could afford to incorporate the delays for COVID-19 into last year’s schedule – a 10-game conference schedule with enough built-in flexibility to get its college playoff champion champion. Alabama, of course, won the state championship. Texas A&M almost caught the playoff spot as well.
The SEC had one of the best plans for arguably the busiest season in college football history. The only two games not played in 2020 were Vanderbilt of Georgia and Ole Miss of Texas A&M. The difference this season is that there is no flexibility. Texas A&M and Georgia, who finished 5th and 9th in the final playoff playoff standings last season, may need that last game in 2021. The error difference is less than 2020, even if the COVID-19 threat remains there is.
“We didn’t build the time we made last year, especially at the end of the season, to adjust to the disruption,” Sankey said. “Unless we do that, our teams will have to be fully prepared to play the season on schedule, which is why the motivation for vaccination is built into my remarks.”
Will other schools listen? Florida coach Dan Mullen has not shared whether his team has reached that 80 percent threshold. Every other coach Hoover will be asked the same question, and the only voice that carries more weight than Sankey’s is the voice of Alabama coach Nick Saban. He had COVID-19 last season and has already appeared in commercials encouraging fans who want full stadiums to vaccinate.
That should be all the motivation that players need, regardless of personal policy. Just one game is enough, and it could keep one of those teams out of the playoffs for College Football. For a conference that loves these statistics – 13 national football championships since the BCS began in 1998 – it should be an easy decision when it comes to reaching that 80 percent threshold.
How much more information do you need?