The Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference on Tuesday became the first conference on record to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations.
In a statement, the SIAC, which competes in Division II, said that all players and coaches must be fully vaccinated in order to compete.
The policy also applies to staff and other auxiliary groups, including officials, band members and cheerleading teams.
The SIAC will honor exemptions players receive from their respective campuses for medical or religious reasons. However, unvaccinated players will be required to undergo COVID-19 testing as established by local health officials.
"Within the context of rising COVID-19 infection rates, student-athletes are a particularly vulnerable stakeholder group who, as a result of their athletic participation, are required to travel off-campus and compete against and interact with student-athletes on other campuses," SIAC commissioner Gregory Moore said in a statement. "These athletic related activities not only increase the risk of exposure to our student-athletes, but also increase the risk of exposure to their classmates and other campus stakeholder once those athletes return to campus. The SIAC policy decision establishing vaccination as prerequisite to intercollegiate athletic competition participation is guided by the overarching interest to protect the health and safety of SIAC student-athletes, and was decided in the light of overwhelming data and evidence which has demonstrated the effectiveness of authorized COVID-19 vaccines combating coronavirus as well as its delta variant."
While none of the Power 5 FBS conferences have required vaccinations, several commissioners have strongly encouraged their players and coaching staffs to do so.
On Monday, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey reported that six of the league's 14 member schools have reached the 80% mark for vaccinations.
"That number needs to grow and grow rapidly," Sankey said. "We have learned how to manage through a COVID environment, but we do not yet have control of a COVID environment."
SEC teams that reach 85% vaccinations are no longer required to wear masks indoors or participate in COVID testing protocols.
Sankey added that schools that can't participate in games because of players in quarantine will not be able to postpone.
The message to schools is, "You're expected to play as scheduled," Sankey said.
"That means your team needs to be healthy to compete, and if not, that game won't be rescheduled," he said. "And thus, to dispose of the game, the 'forfeit' word comes up at this point."