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Pushing vaccines, SEC Commissioner says teams with COVID issues may face forfeits

Kicking off the Southeastern Conference's annual media days, Greg Sankey says forfeits, not rescheduled games, could become the policy for the 2021 football season.

Flanked by a bandage-logo that read “THE SEC BACKS THE VAX,” Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey on Monday drove home the likelihood that teams unable to compete in games this fall season – specifically football – face forfeits rather than rescheduling opportunities.

“You hope not to have disruption but hope is not a plan is the great cliché,” Sankey told reporters inside the Wynfrey Hotel in Birmingham, Alabama. “We still have roster minimums that exist just like last year. What I've identified for consideration among our membership is that we remove those roster minimums and you're expected to play as scheduled. That means your team needs to be healthy to compete, and if not, that game won't be rescheduled.”

Sankey then dropped the F-bomb – forfeiture – if a team presumably is ruled unable to compete because of COVID-19 issues.

“To dispose of the game, the 'forfeit' word comes up at this point,” Sankey said. “That's not a policy, and what you see are the bookends now for decision-making. We've not built the kind of time we did last year, particularly at the end of the season, to accommodate disruption. And unless we're going to do that, our teams are going to have to be fully prepared to play their season as scheduled, which is why embedded in my remarks is the vaccination motivation.”

A year ago as the world and within that college athletics pieced together a modified competition calendar, including what was then a 10-game, SEC-only football schedule, teams were afforded the ability to reschedule contests – sometimes just days before a scheduled contest. The fewer number of games coupled with an elongated competition calendar allowed the SEC and other leagues maximum flexibility.

The SEC even had teams competing in “meaningless” regular-season games alongside its conference championship game last season less than a week before the Christmas holiday.

Those guardrails are not presently in place as college football ticks closer to its widespread opening Labor Day weekend.

Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby last week at his league's media days did not outright say the league was moving to declare contests as forfeits if coronavirus issues halted play this fall, but Bowlsby did drive home the vaccination message.

“Recently I re-introduced the topic that we needed to think about, whether we were going to have competition thresholds this year, what our testing protocols would look like for people that didn't have the vaccine, and I would have to say that among the athletic directors, I don't know that I've ever introduced a topic that was less warmly received than the revisitation of all the protocols and things that we have gone through in the last year,” Bowlsby said.

“And yet, indeed, with the Delta variant, there are good reasons that we need to continue to be vigilant, and we will be. There's still going to be a fair amount of testing. We had a lot of surprises and disappointments during the last year, but ultimately I think self-discipline became the coin of the realm.”

Florida Gators coach Dan Mullen declined Monday to provide specific vaccination numbers for his program but said that he believed the Gators "are doing pretty good" with their vaccinations.