LAS VEGAS — The message appears to be simple from the Mountain West Conference: Get vaccinated or be ready to pay the price.
Commissioner Craig Thompson told The Idaho Press Wednesday during Mountain West Media Days at The Cosmopolitan that restrictions and protocols for vaccinated players will be much more relaxed than those that choose not to get the vaccine.
“If you are vaccinated, it’s business as usual — play on,” Thompson said. “If you are unvaccinated you are going to have to test on a weekly basis and contact trace. There are consequences.
“It’s your decision and your choice whether to be vaccinated or not. We don’t want to put anybody at risk. The league will not compensate and cover the cost of testing this year, but you will be required to test should you choose not to get vaccinated.”
The Mountain West picked up the $4 million tab for COVID-19 testing during the 2020 football season, according to Thompson, but will force schools to pay for their testing this fall. The hope is that players will elect to get vaccinated to avoid having to test or potentially miss a game due to contact tracing.
Thompson confirmed that seven of the 12 Mountain West teams have surpassed an 88% vaccination rate.
“We’re moving forward in the right direction,” Thompson said. “The No. 1 defense of the virus is vaccination. … There is no 100% on any of this, but the bottom line is and the science proves that vaccinations do work.”
Boise State coach Andy Avalos declined to reveal his team’s vaccination rate Wednesday, but he admitted, “we still have some area to grow there.”
The Idaho Press later confirmed through a source that Boise State is not one of the eight teams to reach the 80% vaccination rate. Given seven teams are at close to 90%, that would mean the other five — including Boise State — are at an average of about 50%.
“As much as we wish were out of last year and what that season looked like, a lot of that stuff is still going to be present in terms of the protocols, so we can maximize our opportunities to play games,” Avalos said. “If we don’t choose to get vaccinated, then we’ve got to live through some protocols in terms of wearing a mask.
“We’ve spoken to the team and our trainers have. There’s really two options, either you get vaccinated or you don’t get vaccinated and what comes with the option you choose. Getting vaccinated does keep you from having to be tested throughout the week, keeps you away from contact tracing. If you don’t get vaccinated you get tested and you’ve got to wear your mask all the time.”
Pressed on the vaccination rate of his team, Avalos declined to reveal the number, saying “We’re not going to talk about those percentages.”
Another reason players might be swayed into getting vaccinated? The Mountain West has no plans to postpone or reschedule games that are canceled due to COVID-19. Instead, the team unable to play will be forced to forfeit — and potentially be on the hook for a six-figure bill stemming from revenue lost because of the cancellation.
“We don’t have a final policy yet, but there are not going to be cancellations or rescheduled games this year,” Thompson said. “You play at 1 p.m. as scheduled for national television or your team may run the risk of forfeiting that game.
“We talked about it with our coaches today. Maybe that right tackle plays tight end for a game or whatever it takes to get 11 people on the field.”
Asked why a player potentially wouldn’t want to get vaccinated, Avalos said, “From the things we’ve understood, it not being FDA approved and I’ve already been sick so how will I get sick again.” Avalos also mentioned the current climate in Boise, where masks are not required and the current infection rate is low, as potentially a reason players aren’t on board yet.
Avalos said some players have stepped up and encouraged others to get vaccinated.
“Yeah, lately now because now it’s coming up and it’s real now,” Avalos said. “And if we want to not put ourselves at a disadvantage competitively and, or, for the sake of the players, they’ve put in a lot of hard work and they want to be able to play and not have these distractions.
“That’s what our team is saying, so again, we have to grow in working towards that goal.”