In the United States so far, 56 people for every 100 has received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. A little over 20% of the population has received both doses of the vaccine. By and large, the rollout of the vaccine stateside is going swimmingly.
In Nebraska, residents 16 years of age and older are beginning to get vaccinated. State governor Pete Ricketts last week encouraged Nebraskans to get vaccinated but said he would not support a mandate requiring college students or employees get one.
With regards to athletics, the vaccine presents some real advantages but also some interesting questions.
In the NBA, for example, the league office has not made COVID vaccines mandatory, but has incentivized teams to get them. Fully-vaccinated players would not have to quarantine following exposure to COVID-19, would not have to undergo testing on off days or daily point-of-care testing, and would be permitted to have friends, family, or other guests visit freely.
Teams with at least 85% of players and staff would also be able to ditch masks while inside team facilities.
Notably, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby has said the conference had “no jurisdiction” to mandate vaccines for collegiate athletics, and that appears to be the thinking most conferences will follow. Still, the advantages afforded to NBA players would seemingly carry over for athletes in other team sports as well.
“There may be people for medical reasons or religious reasons or whatever reasons, they choose not to take the vaccine,” Bowlsby told the AP in early March. “Having said that, our society and our teams and our campuses will be better off when the vaccine will be widely distributed and administered.”
In sports, the need to contact trace would be severely diminished, if not altogether removed. Teams would also be able to scale back testing protocols. Without seeing Nebraska’s accounting for Fiscal Year 2020, it would stand to reason that daily testing was not a cheap expense the athletic department incurred.
This will be an area to watch in the coming months.
During the last football season, the Big Ten conference preferred top-down mandates on a lot of issues. However, the league recently announced that fan attendance limits for spring sports and football spring games would be set by individual universities in conjunction with local health departments.
As we approach the other side of this pandemic, it might be fair to say the Big Ten is approaching issues with more openness.
“We haven’t gotten any direction on vaccinations yet,” Husker head coach Scott Frost said when asked on Monday. “I’ll wait on more advice from our leadership here at the university and our athletic department and from the Big Ten before I comment much.”
According to Chris Dunker’s reporting for the Lincoln Journal Star, the larger University of Nebraska-Lincoln will not mandate vaccines, only encourage them.
Frost feels the same will eventually be said of his team.
“This is just my opinion but the kids on our team should probably be last in line for something like that just because of how young and healthy they are,” he said.
“I assume at some point the vaccinations will be available for our guys. I don’t think I’m going to make them mandatory, I don’t think that’s right, but hopefully we’ll get an opportunity to get some of our guys vaccinated if they want to.”
Last season, Nebraska played in eight of its nine scheduled football games while avoiding any major COVID outbreaks. The one game NU missed was due to virus concerns with its opponent, not within its own program.
We’ve heard of several instances of individual players testing positive and missing time because coaches have directly revealed those situations, but Nebraska did well to control the environment its athletes were in last year and its athletes did well to follow COVID guidelines.
Because of HIPAA regulations around patient privacy, don’t expect Nebraska to broadcast which specific players or staff members elect to take the vaccine if and when they do.