SEC Football Media Days opened on Monday in Hoover, Ala., The newest opportunity for the conference to use banners, signage and billboards to remind them of this oft-repeated mantra: It just means more.
However, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey reiterated a sober message for 2021. He even dropped an F-bomb – “expired” – to bring that point home.
“With six weeks to go, now is the time to aim for this full vaccination,” said Sankey in his opening speech. “We know nothing is perfect, but the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine is an important and incredible product of science. It’s not political football. ”
It’s a strong statement as it is in a region where 10 of the 11 states in the SEC country were elected Republican in the 2020 election. This is not about politics or personal decisions.
It’s about football. How much more does it mean?
Sankey went on to run statistics on the COVID-19 vaccine and the SEC’s 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 for the vaccine should be, “It’ll only take a game.”
Ask the state of North Carolina that lost its place in the College World Series. That’s the same standard by which this 2021 football season will operate, a message the Big 12 sent at their media days last week.
“We still have a minimum squad, just like last year,” said Sankey. “What I was considering for our members is that we should remove that minimum number of squads and you will be expected to play as planned. That means your team must be healthy to compete and if not “If this game is not postponed, the game is disposed of, the word comes up at this point. This is not a policy. What you see are the bookends for decision making.”
Decay isn’t certain, but Sankey offered it as a not-so-disguised threat. What else can the conference do at this point? Imagine what a loss would be like in SEC land. Keep in mind that the SEC had two games last year that were postponed just four weeks on schedule. Imagine if Florida-LSU – one of the best games of the SEC season – wasn’t postponed in 2020.
The SEC could afford to build COVID-19 postponements into last year’s schedule – a conference schedule with just 10 games and enough flexibility to win their conference champion in the college football playoffs. Alabama, of course, won the national championship. Texas A&M almost won a playoff spot too.
The SEC had one of the best plans for what was arguably the busiest 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 there is no flexibility. Texas A&M and Georgia, who finished 5th and 9th on the college football playoff leaderboard last season, may need the final game in 2021 a little more. The error rate is below 2020, even if the COVID-19 threat persists.
“We haven’t built up as much time as last year, especially at the end of the season, to make up for disruptions,” said Sankey. “If we don’t do that, our teams have to be fully prepared to play their season as planned. That is why the vaccination motivation is embedded in my remarks.”
Will the other schools listen? Florida coach Dan Mullen did not reveal whether his team had reached that 80 percent hurdle. Every other coach at Hoover is 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 to want to vaccinate full stadiums.
That should be the motivation players need regardless of personal politics. All it takes is this one game, and it could keep one of those teams out of the college football playoff. For a conference that loves these statistics – 13 national championships in football since the BCS began in 1998 – reaching that 80 percent threshold should be an easy decision.
How much more information do you need?