The Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference on Tuesday announced it will require COVID-19 vaccines to participate in conference athletics events. It is believed to be the first conference to do so.
“Within the context of rising COVID-19 infection rates, student-athletes are a particularly vulnerable stakeholder group who, as a result of their athletic participation, are required to travel off-campus and compete against and interact with student-athletes on other campuses," SIAC commissioner Gregory Moore said. "These athletic related activities not only increase the risk of exposure to our student-athletes, but also increase the risk of exposure to their classmates and other campus stakeholder once those athletes return to campus.
"The SIAC policy decision establishing vaccination as prerequisite to intercollegiate athletic competition participation is guided by the overarching interest to protect the health and safety of SIAC student-athletes, and was decided in the light of overwhelming data and evidence which has demonstrated the effectiveness of authorized COVID-19 vaccines combating coronavirus as well as its delta variant.”
The mandate applies to all conference personnel participating in an athletics event -- student-athletes and coaches, but also officials, staff and even marching bands and cheerleaders. The conference granted exceptions for those with medical or religious exemptions, provided they are approved by the individual's campus, but such persons will still be subject to COVID-19 testing and protocols.
The news comes as covid cases have been on the rise again -- from right around 10,000 new cases per day a month ago to more than 30,000 per day today -- and the subject of vaccine mandates are a topic of debate within college athletics and higher education in general.
A covid vaccine mandate within the Indiana University system was upheld by a federal judge on Monday. The policy was brought to court by a group of IU students, who plan to appeal.
To date, more than 500 colleges and universities have installed vaccine mandates, according to Reuters, and a federal judge upholding a public university's mandate could provide cover for other public university systems to install their own mandates.
Within college sports, no one -- until the SIAC -- has had the stomach to install a mandate. The powers that be have tried to entice athletes to get vaccinated on their own by removing the test-and-trace protocol for teams with vaccinate rates of at least 85 percent or higher, while threatening forfeits for teams that don't have enough available bodies to field a team.
The SIAC is a league comprised primarily of HBCUs in South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky. The 11-team football conference did not compete in 2020 due to the various issues health and financial challenges of the pandemic.