Carlson: Why getting vaccinated should be as important as practicing, lifting for Sooners, Cowboys

Spencer Rattler and Spencer Sanders don’t have to get vaccinated for COVID.

Ditto for Lincoln Riley and Mike Gundy, Nik Bonitto and Kolby Harvell-Peel and anyone else who’s part of the football teams at Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. 

Getting vaccinated is not a law; it’s a choice.

But after the past few days, we know not getting the jab is something else for college athletes and coaches.

It’s a risk.

And not just to their health.

On Monday, the North Carolina State baseball team could have opened play in the championship series at the College World Series. Instead, after roaring through its first few games of the tournament, it was sent home not by an opponent but by the NCAA because of COVID-19 protocols.

The Wolfpack was one win away from playing for a national title.

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That’d be like a college football team being sent home before the national semifinal of the College Football Playoff — and if players, coaches and support staff aren’t vaccinated, the threat of that happening this fall is very real.

North Carolina State personnel chat in the dugout during a delay due to COVID-19 safety protocols before a scheduled game against Vanderbilt on Friday in the College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb.

Will it happen?

Probably not.

But could it?

Absolutely, it could.

That should give football teams in Norman and Stillwater and everywhere else in the country a reason to get everyone vaccinated.

Not doing so is a competitive disadvantage.

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College football programs spend all kinds of money trying to find ways to get a competitive advantage, a leg up on the competition. Millions are spent on fancy locker rooms and supersized coaching staffs and high-end performance facilities. Money is thrown around in the hopes it might turn a recruit’s head or unearth a rival’s tipoff and create any sort of advantage that could make the difference between winning and losing. 

Getting everyone on the team vaccinated could definitely be that kind of difference maker — and it doesn’t cost the program a dime.

But as we’ve seen from NC State, the cost of not vaccinating could be huge. 

The way NCAA protocols for championships work, team personnel who are vaccinated are exempt from routine testing as long as they don’t show any symptoms of COVID. But anyone who isn’t vaccinated must be tested regularly during the championship.

North Carolina State, lined up before Friday's game at the College World Series, played shorthanded due to COVID protocols and lost to Vanderbilt. After the game, the NCAA ruled Saturday's elimination game was a no-contest because of NC State's positive tests and contact tracing, ending the Wolfpack's season.

According to D1Baseball’s Aaron Fitt, two unvaccinated players with NC State tested positive. That triggered team-wide testing per NCAA protocols, and in that testing, four more players tested positive.

Citing the recommendations of the medical team at the CWS and health department officials in Omaha, the NCAA determined NC State wouldn’t be allowed to play an elimination game against Vanderbilt, sending the Commodores on and the Wolfpack home. 

Here’s the reality: if everyone on NC State’s team had been vaccinated, those two players who triggered all of this wouldn’t have even been tested. 

(Even better, had they been vaccinated, they might not have gotten COVID!)

Think for a minute about how those two players must feel now. They started the dominoes that denied their own team a chance at a title and barred the Wolfpack from being able to determine its own fate on the field. 

They’ll live with that regret forever.

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But the coaches and administrators at NC State will live with regret, too. They worked so hard to get the program to that championship level. They devoted lots of time. They spent loads of money. They did everything possible to gain a competitive advantage, but at the same time, they willingly carried a ticking time bomb of unvaccinated players everywhere they went. The plane. The bus. The hotel. The locker room. The dugout. They willingly carried that danger everywhere.

There was a chance it wouldn’t explode and hurt everyone — but it did.

That’s the kind of thing college football teams need to think long and hard about. Athletic directors like Joe Castiglione and Chad Weiberg and coaches like Riley and Gundy might not be able to mandate vaccinations — in our state, a law has been passed prohibiting colleges and universities from requiring students to be vaccinated, and I assume legal types would say athletic departments could get in hot water for requiring such things — but they convince people to do all sorts of things. Lift a little more weight. Run a little bit faster. Watch a little more film. It's all done in the name of teamwork.

NC State players wait during a delay due to COVID-19 safety protocols before Friday's College World Series game against Vanderbilt. Reports indicate two unvaccinated players tested positive, triggering additional team testing and contact tracing that ultimately eliminated NC State from the CWS.

Getting vaccinated is the ultimate in teamwork. 

And considering the increased exposure football teams are sure to have in the fall, not being vaccinated could cause even more shutdowns, postponements and cancellations than we saw last fall. Think about it: there’ll be more in-person classes and on-campus activities with less mask wearing and social distancing than a year ago, and with Oklahoma not allowing colleges to require vaccinations, it’ll be anyone’s guess who’s vaccinated and who’s not.

Football teams are going to be exposed to the virus. Of that, there is no doubt. They need to get vaccinated if they want to avoid the testing that could get them shutdown.

Side benefit, they'll also avoid COVID.

That’s a win-win.

Talk about a competitive advantage.

Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or Like her at, follow her at, and support her work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.