SWAC commissioner Charles McClelland delivered a strong message Tuesday to schools and football players about what it will take to complete the upcoming fall season.
Protecting themselves against COVID-19 by getting fully vaccinated or else.
“You must get vaccinated,” McClelland said during SWAC football media day. “If you are a vaccinated student-athlete or coach, all of the protocols have been taken off.”
The league nor its teams want a repeat of a truncated spring season that saw the cancelation of 11 regular-season games.
McClelland used his national platform to encourage players and coaches to get inoculated, making a plea as the delta variant rages in the regions where the SWAC has its footprint.
Those who are vaccinated will not have to undergo multiple rounds of testing, contact tracing, or quarantine unless presented with virus symptoms, according to the league’s new COVID-19 policy.
Players, coaches, and staff members who are not vaccinated, will be subject to testing three times a week, including the day of the game, and be required to quarantine for 14 days if coming in contact with someone who tested positive.
“I urge all student-athletes to get vaccinated. If you’re not, you’re not going to be able to finish the season,” said McClelland. The Southwestern Athletic Conference has gone all the way up to the line to say ‘you must get vaccinated without mandating it,’ but I can 100 percent guarantee that if you are not vaccinated, you’re not going to be able to complete this season.”
To further incentivize vaccination as a competitive advantage, the conference outlined that schools unable to play scheduled games this season because of coronavirus outbreaks will have to forfeit those contests and possibly incur a fine, rather than have them pushed back or rescheduled, as was frequently the case during the spring.
“There is no make-up,” he said. “That game is a loss.”
Grambling State head coach Broderick Fobbs, whose team was hit hard by an outbreak in the spring, supported the league’s emphasis on widespread vaccination.
“Well, I think it’s important you know of course. We can listen to the commissioner, you know, you better get vaccinated otherwise it’s going to be extremely difficult,” said Fobbs.”I think when you look at the percentages, it behooves you for everyone to be vaccinated, you know, regardless of what they believe, or what they think. I just think it gives you a better chance percentage-wise in order to be healthy in order to be safe.”
All of the Tigers’ coaches are currently fully vaccinated, with about 70 percent of the roster vaccinated, said Fobbs.
No SWAC program was impacted more by COVID than Alcorn State, which elected not to play in the spring because of virus concerns.
As a result, the Braves, who now moved to the SWAC West, will have to play the majority of its games on the road.
The SWAC rearranged the conference fall schedule that features Alcorn State playing at Southern, Mississippi Valley State, and Alabama A&M — all the schools that lost home games after Alcorn State decided to not pursue spring competition.
Despite the challenging road, the Braves will embark on, head coach Fred McNair supports the SWAC’s stance on vaccination and punishments for schools unable to play because of the virus.
“I agree with the commissioner (with) what’s been put in place with COVID protocols. I’m all for it,” said McNair. “We can’t make them (players) get vaccinated but we can encourage them.”
Meanwhile, the majority of SWAC coaches were adamant that holding a season without disruption was paramount and the element of vaccines would get them there.
Mississippi Valley State head coach Vincent Dancy revealed that roughly 50 percent of his roster was vaccinated. At Southern, first-year coach Jason Rollins said the entire team, including coaches, were vaccinated.
“We had a lot of Zoom meetings with parents,” said Rollins. “We dealt with facts and not myths to help the players make the best decisions for themselves and their families.”
But not all programs are where they are expected to be with vaccinations.
Clarence McKinney said last season half the team became infected at one point during a season in which Texas Southern was only able to play three games.
Heading into fall practice, the third-year coach said the program “is not where we need to be” on the vaccination front.
“Hopefully, our guys became a little more motivated to get vaccinated,” said McKinney. “… There are vaccinations available to us that’s been proven to prevent spread of COVID. If teams aren’t vaccinated, I don’t think the commissioner should have to force teams to reschedule games. That would just open up a never-ending season.”