SEC media days provide insight into vaccination progress across the conference
HOOVER, Ala. - As coaches dove into schedules, game plans, and rosters during SEC media days, anticipation for the return of a normal football season was palpable.
From the moment Florida's Dan Mullen took the stage Monday, kicking off the four-day media blitz, the focus, while mainly on football, routinely took a turn to vaccines and where each of the 14 programs stands.
"I'm not going to get into the specific numbers right now, but I think we're doing very well with those numbers," Mullen responded when asked how many players had received a vaccine. "We're getting close to ... the threshold numbers you need to be at."
Variations of Mullen's answer were repeated throughout the week. When asked, Ed Orgeron shared a similar message.
"I can't tell you that," Orgeron said. "I think most of our guys have been vaccinated for COVID. "Obviously, that's a personal choice, but hopefully towards the season, most of guys decide to get vaccinated."
In his opening remarks Monday, where he urged players, staff, and fans to get vaccinated, commissioner Greg Sankey said six teams have a vaccination rate at or above 80%.
Numerous reports say LSU's rate is above 90 percent. Other coaches among that group were more forthcoming on their respective percentage.
"Our group there is over 85 percent and we're proud of that, but we're not stopping there," George head coach, Kirby Smart said. "It's not about a number, it's not about a threshold. I think everybody wants to write, who's over, who's under. 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 the family members of our players safe, and that comes through vaccinations."
Entering his second season leading the Razorbacks, Arkansas head coach, Sam Pittman, revealed Thursday where vaccinations stand among his team before reporters could ask.
"Our players are currently vaccinated at 89%," Pittman said. "Our building is a little over 92% COVID-vaccinated."
Alabama's Nick Saban said it was a similar rate in Tuscaloosa.
"90%, maybe, of our players have gotten the vaccine," Saban said. "I'm hopeful that more players make that decision, but it is their decision."
In updated mitigation requirements released earlier this summer, the SEC's Medical Guidance Task Force says, "once a team reaches an 85% COVID immunization rate, the entire team including coaches and
support staff may suspend surveillance testing regardless of a given individual's immunization status."
While some schools, like LSU, have hit or even surpassed that mark, other schools have not.
"We have a ways to go, but I believe it's attainable," Kentucky head coach, Mark Stoops said. "We want them to make the right decision for themselves."
Other coaches elected not to wade into that territory during their respective time at the podium.
"First of all, we let the doctors handle that, so I don't have anything to do with that," Mississippi State's Mike Leach said, after refusing to answer a reporter asking if he had been vaccinated.
Of the coaches who did choose to discuss immunizations, most of them made it clear the decision was personal, and up to each player. Saban though, says that personal decision could also have an impact on the field.
"You also have a competitive decision to make, because you're going to be part of a team," Saban said. So how [does] the choice, the personal choice and decision you make, affect the team."
Earlier in the week, Sankey said games during the upcoming season would not be rescheduled over COVID concerns. The school not able to field a team will be forced to forfeit.