University of Michigan to require student-athletes to be fully vaccinated by Aug. 1
Michigan athletes are required to take the COVID-19 vaccine and must be fully vaccinated by the beginning of practices — no later than Aug. 1 — for the upcoming 2021-2022 season.
A two-page document sent in an email to athletes and their parents with a subject line, “Mandatory COVID Vaccine Policy for Athletics” on June 17 and obtained by The Detroit News listed several justifications for requiring the vaccine, as well as some exemptions. All coaches and staff in close contact with athletes and coaches during practices and games were to have received the first dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or the single dose of the J&J vaccine no later than July 1.
The COVID-19 pandemic closed campuses across the country in mid-March 2020. The Big Ten initially postponed all fall sports last August, then opted to hold a nine-game, conference-only football season while other fall, winter and spring teams played limited schedules. Athletes were tested frequently, some every day, for the virus during the seasons. Michigan athletics had a two-week pause in January because of COVID-19 after a recommendation from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
Michigan announced April 23 that the vaccine would be required for those living in university housing. Those students must provide proof of vaccination by July 15. Earlier this month, UM announced those vaccinated against COVID-19 no longer are required to wear face masks or socially distance on campus.
Among the rationale for requiring the vaccine, according to the email from Michigan athletics, is the fact coaches travel throughout the country and some go abroad for recruiting, as well as the fact the athletes travel for competitions and live together.
“Required vaccines among student-athletes & the appropriate staff members will help create a 'Clean playing field' during practices, competitions, & travel when individuals are in close daily contact with each other & at the highest risk for exposure, thus avoiding the risk of cancelled practices, competitions, and other disruptions,” the letter reads.
The email was sent to Michigan athletes and parents before the College Baseball World Series which last Saturday saw N.C. State’s game against Vanderbilt declared a “no contest” by the NCAA because the team had eight positive COVID-19 test results and the team was eliminated. Michigan’s hockey team, the No. 2 seed, was removed from the NCAA Tournament in March because of positive COVID-19 results. Michigan's final three football games were canceled because of a COVID outbreak within the team.
“We all saw the challenges of the previous year, and we’ve seen those challenges persist as recently as the College World Series,” said Kurt Svoboda, Michigan associate athletic director for external communications and public relations. “I think it’s just another stark reminder we’re not out of the woods, that this is here and it’s going to last, and what can universities and athletic departments do to continue to educate their community members about this reality and about the options going forward. It’s a powerful and sad reminder of that.”
Coaches, staff or athletes who don’t want to get the vaccine for religious or medical reasons must supply documentation to the athletic department. Non-vaccinated individuals must continue to go through COVID testing at least once a week, according to the letter. Testing will no longer take place in athletics, but can be done on or off campus, although off-campus testing will not be reimbursed. Unvaccinated coaches and athletes must continue to wear a mask at all times during athletic activities and must remain socially distanced.