As college football programs kick-off practice across the country, the NCAA is recommending different approaches for athletes based on who is and isn’t vaccinated against coronavirus.
The SMU Mustangs opened their 2021 football camp Friday morning, hoping COVID-19 doesn’t sideline another season. Last year, the pandemic led to canceled games, including a bowl game.
Head coach Sonny Dykes approached his players with a game plan to beat the formidable opponent that is COVID-19.
“We asked them to help us mitigate the very best that we could,” said Dykes. “We’re 90%-plus vaccinated as a program.”
Dykes said he and his staff are all vaccinated as well.
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Representatives with the football program told NBC 5 they will follow all local, state, conference, and NCAA guidelines pertaining to COVID-19.
Just this week, the NCAA recommended weekly testing for unvaccinated college athletes. The guidelines also call for unvaccinated individuals to wear a mask in most situations and quarantine if they test positive or are exposed to the virus.
“They’re making the vaccinations really available to us if we can to get it,” said SMU tight end Grant Calcaterra. “I think everybody at SMU is handling it pretty well.”
SMU linebackers Shaine Hailey is among players who will not be subjected to weekly testing after taking his mom’s advice and getting the shot.
“She’s a big influence in my life. She really guides me on the health thing,” said Hailey. “She just tells me to take my vitamin C, take my turmeric,' the good stuff that we need for our bodies. ‘Make sure you get the vaccine and you’ll be good to go.’”
Dykes said many players were initially uncomfortable with the vaccine but remained open-minded. Many, he said, opted to get inoculated for the ‘greater good' of the program.
“I think it speaks to their character and to their willingness to sacrifice for each other,” said Dykes. “There's some guys who probably won’t do it [get vaccinated], which I totally respect that as well.”
Quarterback Tanner Mordecai, who transferred to SMU from OU, said he’s putting his trust in team trainers and doctors but called the decision over vaccinations a personal decision.
“If you feel you need to get vaccinated, it’s totally a man or a woman’s choice. I don’t have a huge opinion on it,” he said. “It’s a personal preference. It’s a pretty sensitive subject for a lot of people so whatever they feel comfortable with. I’m not going to think any differently of them.”
Additionally, unvaccinated individuals will not have access to the team locker rooms. They will not be allowed to attend team meals and will only be able to attend team meetings when masked and will have to socially distance when possible, according to an SMU athletics spokesman.
“My hope is that we’ll continue to get more people vaccinated and this little uptick will slow down,” said Dykes.
The university announced masks will not be required on campus for fall 2021. However, faculty members will be allowed to seek permission to require masks in their classrooms.
A recent survey was conducted of students who plan to live in university-owned housing.
Of the 80% who responded to the survey, more than 84% said they are fully or partially vaccinated or intend to be vaccinated soon, according to a university blog post.