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Georgia Southern among least vaccinated football teams in Sun Belt

Published: Aug. 19, 2021 at 4:59 PM EDT
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STATESBORO, Ga. (WTOC) - Vaccination rates across college football teams continue to be a topic of discussion among fans, coaches, and players as we near the start of the season.

Where does the Georgia Southern football team stack up among their peers?

All ten schools that play Sun Belt football were contacted to determine what percentage of their football team has received the COVID-19 vaccine. All but three have given some information, and the Eagles are at the bottom of the conference.

Prior to student-athletes beginning fall camp, the Sun Belt Conference eased their COVID-19 guidelines. Fully-vaccinated athletes don’t have to be tested weekly and are not subject to contact tracing. But the conference is not requiring players to be vaccinated.

Those that are not vaccinated will be tested weekly.

“Those that are vaccinated are not going to be going through the weekly surveillance testing unless they have symptoms. If you’re not vaccinated, you’ll be going through weekly testing and obviously you’ll be subjected to contact tracing as well, so right now we’re doing the best we can to continue to educate our student athletes,” Georgia Southern Athletic Director Jared Benko said.

Of the seven responses WTOC received, Georgia Southern ranks last in the percentage of vaccinated football players.

Some schools were more specific than others. Starting in the East Division, as of Aug. 13, App State reported 90 percent. On Aug. 16, Coastal Carolina reported that they’re not quite to 85 percent, but are pushing toward it.

Georgia Southern reports 64 percent of their football players have had at least one dose of the vaccine as of Thursday, Aug. 19. *EDIT: On Friday, Aug. 20, Georgia Southern said that 74 percent of the team has now been vaccinated.

Georgia State and Troy did not disclose their rates.

In the West Division, on Monday, Arkansas State reports that they are over 90 percent. Louisiana did not respond to our request. South Alabama reported 82 percent on Saturday. Texas State says they are at approximately 75 percent a week ago, and last Friday ULM reported they are at 97 percent.

Georgia Southern was one of very few schools to play a full 13 game slate, but week one of the 2020 season the Eagles had 30 players out due to contact tracing.

“I know we’re very thankful that we got the 13 games in last year, but there’s a lot of guys on our team that probably wanted more and wanted to do more and now feeling like, ‘hey, we’re going to go in to more of a normal setting, a normal year.’ I think there’s a lot of excitement to that, and obviously very thankful for that, however I still think we have to be mindful of, you know, when you start talking about COVID and the things that, you know, because there is an uptick right now - we definitely have to be very mindful about that type of stuff, and we can’t lose focus of what it takes. We’ve got to be very disciplined and regimented, you know, just like we were last year so that we don’t have those issues,” head coach Chad Lunsford said.

Georgia Southern’s football team’s vaccination rate is also low compared to other teams in the state. The University of Georgia has stated they’re over 90 percent, while Georgia Tech is over 85 percent.

Savannah State is over 90 percent, but their conference is requiring a vaccine to play this year.

Georgia Southern reiterated that their goal is a 100 percent vaccination rate throughout the whole athletic department, but ultimately it is a personal choice for each athlete.

The CDC says you aren’t considered fully vaccinated until two weeks from your final dose and the Eagles kick off their season two weeks from this Saturday at Paulson Stadium against Gardner-Webb.

It is important to note that this information has been collected over the last week-and-a-half, so these rates could have increased between now and then and schools are not required to report their rates.

Georgia Southern said that student athletes are not being incentivized for being vaccinated.

The following is a statement from the Georgia Southern Athletics Department:

“As of August 19, 2021, 64 percent of Georgia Southern football players, and 63 percent of all Eagle student-athletes, have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccination. We continue to educate our student-athletes and staff on the importance of getting vaccinated, but it remains a personal choice for all and we support that. Dating back to the spring semester, Georgia Southern has been proactively providing educational information to our student-athletes and staff on the benefits of being vaccinated. Additionally, medical personnel have spoken to, and continue to speak to, all of our teams regarding the medical research behind the vaccine.

Per NCAA guidance, all unvaccinated student-athletes took a COVID test upon return to campus and continue to be tested on a weekly basis. Those who are vaccinated will not have to be subjected to weekly surveillance testing unless they show symptoms and will not be subjected to contact tracing. We understand that fully vaccinated teams give us the best chance to be successful this year and continue to strive for a 100 percent vaccination rate within the entire department.”

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