TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama football coach Nick Saban revealed on Thursday morning that Alabama football will continue to undergo the same COVID-19 protocols that it performed last season as cases surge once again across the state.
Speaking to the media before giving a speech at the Nick's Kids Jubilee — a celebration that saw 28th Avenue in Tuscaloosa renamed Nick's Kids Avenue in honor of his and his wife's foundation — Saban said that his staff and team will undergo the same masking, social distancing and testing policies for the first six weeks of the season.
“We’re going to use the same protocol for the next six weeks or so that we used last year,” Saban said. “Even though the majority of our players are vaccinated, we’re still going to be very cautious indoors and meetings and so forth on trying not to have an issue with the COVID.”
Saban announced at SEC Football Media Days in July that approximately 90 percent of his players had been fully vaccinated. There is no NCAA standard that states that all players should be vaccinated. However, the SEC has established that once a team surpasses an 85-percent threshold, the team will no longer need to perform testing on its players.
On Wednesday, the NCAA announced considerations for athletics programs and conferences to refer to when creating their COVID-19 plans. Due to the pandemic's various levels of impact across the nation, the NCAA is leaving the protocols up to each individual institution as well as conference officials as long as the protocols abide by CDC, local, state and federal guidelines.
Last season, players and staff at Alabama underwent daily testing to ensure that COVID-19 was kept at bay and to reduce the spread amongst the team. While protocols have loosened across college athletics due to cases dropping earlier this year, the recent surge of cases due to the delta variant of COVID-19 has caused programs to look forward to next season with cautious optimism.
According to Alabama director of athletics Greg Byrne, Alabama hopes to host its athletic events at full capacity this season including football games inside Bryant-Denny Stadium. Last year, games were held at roughly 20-percent capacity to allow fans to practice social distancing.
On Thursday, Saban reiterated that he and his team hope to return to full capacity in Tuscaloosa this season.
“We’re hopeful that we’ll be able to have full capacity in the stadium,” Saban said. “I’m hopeful that more and more people will get vaccinated so they’ll have the opportunity to do that but that’s everybody’s personal choice."
Current vaccination numbers in the state of Alabama reflect that approximately 35 percent of the general population is fully vaccinated. In the city of Tuscaloosa, 31 percent of the general population is fully vaccinated.
Across the United States as a whole, the country just passed the 50-percent mark of people who are now fully vaccinated.
Saban reiterated that as much as holding a full-capacity Bryant-Denny Stadium means to the fans, it means just as much to his players.
"I know it means a lot to our players and one of the things that all the guys that went out for the draft said last year they hated it that this year was their last year playing for Alabama and they didn’t get a chance to play in front of our great fans who support and create a spirit that makes the place special," Saban said. "So I’m not concerned about it. I’m just hopeful that it works out.”