There’s been a lot written and said the past couple of weeks about the SEC. Already the dominant force in college football, the recruiting of Texas and Oklahoma has elevated the conference to even greater heights.
I’ve seen a lot of hand wringing about what it means for the future of college football. Purists and traditionalists have lamented the inevitable demise of the Big 12 as another sign of the professionalization of college sports.
But this is not new. College football has been a business first and foremost for a long time. It’s about money, pure and simple. And there’s nothing wrong with that. The pursuit of riches in and of itself is not ignoble. What’s tiresome, and at times nauseating, is the sanctimony and false piety of college presidents and conference executives who claim that education comes first.
Yes, yes, I can hear the protests. College football is a business, but they are trying to help the kids. The money does a lot of good by increasing educational opportunities for hundreds of thousands of students And it’s true that many people involved in college football genuinely see the players as more than mere commodities.
There is a way for the SEC and its member universities, now that they are done picking the carcass of the Big 12, to prove that their economic interests don’t trump everything and truly live up to their true mission as educational institutions: require Covid vaccinations to attend any football game on an SEC campus this fall.
Vaccine rates across the southeast region of the country are well below the national average. I try to stay away from politics in this blog, but I think it’s safe to say that the evidence overwhelmingly supports the benefits of the vaccine in fighting Covid. To say otherwise runs counter to science.
The Swamp at the University at Florida holds 88,000; Sanford Stadium in Georgia holds 92,000, Bryant-Denny in Alabama and Tiger Stadium at LSU hold more than 100,000 each. Can you imagine the positive impact on saving lives, slowing the pandemic, and promoting respect for science if perhaps the most powerful cultural institutions in the southeast, the state universities, took such a stand?
The political and financial blowback would be significant, to say the least. Local politicians who have come out against vaccine mandates and mask wearing to score cheap political points would howl. Major boosters who have fallen for the lie that their personal freedom in this case is more important than broader good of the community would threaten to pull funding.
But in a summer when they have yet again prioritized counting the money above all else, the university presidents of the SEC have been given a rare gift. They have an opportunity to demonstrate that their talk about the importance of education, learning and science isn’t just empty sanctimony. They can take a stand by telling their fans that they can do what they want elsewhere, but if they want to come on campus and watch a game they need to get vaccinated first.