The Arkansas football program is among the best in the SEC in terms of COVID-19 vaccination rate, with 89 percent of the players and 92 percent of the football facility as a whole being vaccinated, head coach Sam Pittman said Thursday.
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey announced Monday that six of the 14 teams in the conference had hit 80 percent, but the second-year coach revealed at SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala., that the Razorbacks had also reached the magic number that comes with relaxed COVID-19 protocols.
By exceeding the 85 percent mark, the SEC’s current policy allows for Arkansas to ditch wearing masks inside facilities and undergoing regular COVID-19 testing.
However, it’s worth noting that could change soon because of the surging delta variant, according to Sports Illustrated. Ross Dellenger is reporting that, pending approval, unvaccinated players would need to continue to be tested and there is talk of reimposing a mask mandate, especially on road trips.
Other SEC teams reportedly among the six Sankey said have hit 80 percent are Alabama, Georgia and LSU. South Carolina coach Shane Beamer told reporters Monday that the Gamecocks are “rapidly approaching that” number and Missouri coach Eliah Drinkwitz said Thursday that his team is trending in the right direction, while other coaches have declined to divulge their numbers.
Much like Arkansas, Georgia has also exceeded the 85 percent mark, according to head coach Kirby Smart, but he added that he’d like it to get to 100 percent.
“We’re proud of that, but we’re not stopping there,” Smart said. “It’s not about a number. It’s not about a threshold. … What it’s really about is being able to save our season, being able to keep our players safe. We want to keep our players safe. We want to keep our coaches and staff safe. We want to keep our family members safe, and that comes through vaccinations.”
Last year, the pandemic forced the SEC to postpone the start of the season and play 10-game, conference-only schedules.
Although only two of the 70 scheduled regular-season games ended up being canceled, but many more were postponed and rescheduled. Arkansas experienced it late in the season when the Missouri and Alabama games were pushed back a week.
With the return to a normal 12-game schedule in 2021, postponements will be a thing of the past and forfeits will be on the table, Sankey said Monday.
“Players have to understand that you are putting your teammates in a circumstance and situation,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. “Every player has a personal decision to make to evaluate the risk of COVID relative to vaccine, and then they have a competitive decision to make on how it impacts their ability to play in games, because with the vaccine you probably have a better chance.”