The Big Sky Conference football conference kick off was aired July 24–26 from Spokane, Washington on ESPN+. The two day event provides coverage of student athletes, coaches and schedule releases as they get ready for college football to begin again in Sept. Portland State head coach since 2014, Bruce Barnum, quarterback Alexander Davis and safety Anthony Adams represented PSU. To start the kick off, Big Sky commissioner Tom Wistrcill had his state of the conference address and explained that his goal is to have the vaccination rate up to 80–85% within the conference. Currently, out of the 13 football programs in the conference, the average is below 50%. This is important because low vaccination rates will result in outbreaks within the conference and cancelled games soon after. If teams do not have enough players to start a game, the team will have to forfeit instead of a no-contest. There will be no rescheduling of the game, either. In a 2020 March Madness game, Virginia Commonwealth University had to forfeit their game because they had too many players on the COVID-19 list, resulting in the Oregon Ducks moving on to the next round unchallenged.
“We will not make up games this year,” Wistrcill said in his address. “We do not have room in the schedule, so it will be a forfeit—and it would break my heart to see that happen. We need our players’ help here to keep a safe and healthy locker room.”
All member schools will have a full schedule. The Big 12 Conference, Sun Belt, Mountain West and Southeastern Conference will follow the same rules as Wistrcill stated. The Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and Pac-12, including Oregon and Oregon State, will soon follow.
Not everyone is onboard with these new rules and policies. Boston College, a private college in Massachusetts, requires all students to be vaccinated. Their football team, the Eagles, play in the ACC, and have every member on the team vaccinated except for one. Since the university’s rules were set in stone, head coach of the team, Jeff Hafley, simply helped one player who opposed getting the vaccine to transfer to another school.
The Big Sky is not mandating its member schools have players be vaccinated, but it does require its referees and staff to be vaccinated. The Big Sky left the final word on whether student athletes should be vaccinated to its member schools.
Portland State University requires all students and employees on campus to be vaccinated, so the players on the field will likely be no different. Montana, Montana State and Northern Arizona will not require students to be vaccinated on campus. PSU will play Montana State this season in the Big Sky Conference. The state of Utah is not allowed to require vaccination, but will have access to vaccines for students who do want to be vaccinated. The Viks will play both Utah schools—Southern Utah and Weber State—this fall.
Portland State will start the first two games of their season away, playing the University of Hawai’i in less than a month on Sept. 4, and Washington State on Sept. 11. They have their home opener on Sept. 18 against Division-II Western Oregon. PSU will have an 11-game season and will be playing six away games, including the Idaho Vandals and Sacramento State Hornets. The Viks got back on the park blocks to begin fall camp on Aug. 6, looking to prove critics wrong, after recently being ranked 10 in the Big Sky preseason poll.
Portland State was one of five teams in the conference along with Montana, Montana State, Sacramento State and Northern Colorado that canceled their last season due to the pandemic.
On Aug. 4, the NCAA released the Reconciliation of Collegiate Sport: Fall Training and Competition. The document listed a table for what players can and cannot do, if they are vaccinated. Vaccinated players will not need regular testing unless they are experiencing symptoms. Unvaccinated players can be tested up to three times a week and need to wear a mask during team travel and while indoors. If either vaccinated or unvaccinated players test positive for COVID-19, they must be isolated for 10 days.
College football will still be played, nonetheless, whether players are vaccinated or not. All teams are on thin ice though; too many COVID-19 cases will result in a forfeit without hesitation. The main importance is to make sure all players are ready before the new college football season starts Aug. 28 for all 254 Division-I schools.