Greg Sankey

New SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey speaks before an NCAA college basketball game in the quarter final round of the Southeastern Conference tournament, Friday, March 13, 2015, in Nashville, Tenn. Sankey replaces the retiring Mike Slive as commissioner of the Southeastern Conference. (AP Photo/Steve Helber) ORG XMIT: TNMS102

HOOVER, Ala. — Commissioner Greg Sankey pushed for higher vaccination rates among league members in his opening remarks of the Southeastern Conference Media Days on Monday, adding that he has recommended not rescheduling league games if teams are disrupted by further coronavirus outbreaks.

Sankey said the league still currently has its 53-man roster minimum requirement it had last season, but he has recommended to remove that minimum to further incentivize teams to get vaccinated. 

"That means your team needs to be healthy to compete, and if not, that game won't be rescheduled," Sankey said.

Multiple SEC games were postponed last season due coronavirus outbreaks on football teams — LSU rescheduled its games against Alabama and Florida to the end of the season — and the league jumped through logistical hoops to ensure that only two of its games were outright canceled last season.

Sankey lauded the SEC's efforts to maintain its sports seasons as the world navigated through the initial surge of the pandemic. The league issued nearly 350,000 COVID-19 tests across its sports last year. But now that vaccines are "widely available," Sankey said vaccinations are now the league's focus.

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"Vaccines are widely available," Sankey said. "They’ve proven to be highly effective, and when people are fully vaccinated we all have the ability to avoid serious health risks, reduce the virus’ spread and maximize our chances of returning to a normal college football experience and to normal life.”

Six of the SEC's 14 football teams have reached 80% vaccination, Sankey said.  LSU coach Ed Orgeron didn't offer an exact number on the team's vaccination when asked later Monday, but he added "I think most of our guys have been vaccinated for COVID."

"And obviously that's a personal choice," Orgeron said. "But hopefully, hopefully towards the season, most of our guys decide to get vaccinated."

While there are no SEC mandates for people to get vaccinated, there are incentives in place. Once a team reaches the 85% threshold, the SEC no longer requires it to test regularly or wear masks inside its facilities.

"We know nothing is perfect," Sankey said, "but the availability and the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines are an important and incredible product of science, not a political football, and we need to do our part to support healthy society."

Email Brooks Kubena at bkubena@theadvocate.com.