The wild West nature of next season’s pandemic-challenged college football can be partly illustrated by the 160 miles on the Texas Highway that connects Austin College fashion city with the bustling Houston metropolis.

At one end stands the University of Texas, where more than 100,000 fans will fill Darrell K Royal – Texas Memorial Stadium to cheer the Longhorns this fall. Many, along with some players and coaches, are likely to be unvaccinated following the executive order of Governor Greg Abbott banning vaccine requirements for any state-funded organization.

On the other side of that highway is Rice University, where over 40,000 people hope to see their Owls change things this fall. And because it is a private research university, Abbott’s executive order does not apply, and the vaccine requirements set by the school mean that anyone who shows up will only enter if they have received their COVID-19 shots.

These are just two of the 130 schools that will play Division I football this fall.

Each will have vaccination plans drawn up by governors and legislatures, medical officials and university leaders, and they are likely to change from week to week. Politics and politics will surely clash as the red and blue states, often with schools playing in the same conference, try to spend an entire season without a blast.

“Inevitably,” admitted Longhorns coach Steve Sarkisian, “we’re all just trying to protect each other.”

There are more than 2,500 schools across the country with various COVID-19 mitigation policies, according to the Davidson College College Crisis Initiative, which has pursued higher education responses to the pandemic. Nearly a quarter of them – hundreds of schools such as Michigan and Notre Dame – have asked students to come in for vaccinations this fall, a number that is certain to increase after the FDA approves the Pfizer vaccine this week.

Now, one of the biggest obstacles to claiming the vaccine – its urgent authorization – has become a point of discussion.

“I think six or seven states, with governorships or state legislative decrees, could not do it,” explained Chris Marsicano, a Davidson professor specializing in education policy, “and Ohio, Arizona and Texas are among the highest profiles.” of them. ”

In countries where the vaccine is not required, such as Kansas State, players who have not received the stroke are subject to strict COVID-19 control plans. They include regular testing, wearing masks in all public spaces, and, quite often, the inability to team up with teammates for food and other extracurricular activities.

“I know we’m over 80% now,” Wildcats coach Chris Klieman said in the middle of the autumn camp. “We had a handful last week of July, the first week of August, that were able to take their first hit. So we’re not out of the woods. But no one is. I wish we could say we have finished with this, but we are not. “

In Mississippi, where vaccination rates are among the lowest in the country, Rebel coach Lane Kiffin raised an eyebrow last month with the news that his entire team had been vaccinated. That was not the case at the start of the summer program, Kiffin said, but the players took it upon themselves to encourage each other to take their shots.

“You’re coming in, you’re close to these guys, you’re affecting people’s ability to play games on certain weekends and closing down,” he said. “This is not a normal job where you can just stay home and do augmentation on Saturday.”

Alabama coach Nick Saban said his team was closing 90% vaccination rates, a byproduct of a vigorous educational effort and natural peer pressure. Same with SEC rival Georgia, where coach Kirby Smart said “we feel really comfortable where we are” at the start of the fall workout.

“My goal is always to be 100%,” Smart said. “I think it’s safer for our players.”

The NCAA does not require its 1,100 member schools with approximately 450,000 athletes in dozens of sports to pursue a policy appropriate for all COVID-19s. Instead, the besieged governing body issued a series of recommendations for testing, quarantine, and isolation that were created to fit within a framework of different mandates from the state.

Texas and New Hampshire are among those who stopped seeking the vaccine; Hawaii requires athletes to be vaccinated.

It’s not just on the field. LSU announced that fans must show proof of vaccination or a recent COVID-19 test just to enter Tiger Stadium this fall. Oregon and Oregon State have similar policies in place.

Not surprisingly, there have been legal challenges. In one, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett denied an urgent request to stop Indiana University from requiring faculty, staff and students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 — a decision that suggests that athletes and students challenging the requirements of other vaccines are likely to fail.

There are exceptions, of course, but getting approval is not as easy as it may seem.

Duke requires that students receiving an exemption be subject to daily symptom monitoring, regular testing, indoor camouflage, and other protocols. Hofstra requires students seeking medical or religious exemptions to have a document signed by a physician or religious leader that must then be reviewed by a university panel.

Often, students who refuse the vaccine are forced to pay for regular tests out of their own pockets.

All of these raise serious ethical considerations, too.

“On the one hand, the decisions one makes about one’s health are at the core of one’s autonomy. Such decisions involve one’s deepest values ​​and concerns,” said Shawn Klein, a professor specializing in sports philosophy at Arizona State. . “On the other hand, deciding whether or not to get the vaccine can affect others in potentially serious ways.

“I do not agree with most of the reasons given for not getting the vaccine,” Klein added, “but for those who make the decision, it is often important for their values.”

More than 100 games were canceled or postponed to college mainstream football last season, even though most schools played truncated or conference-only schedules. Some were often offset by just a few days notice, others danced on schedule like a ping-pong ball. Coaches were often left wondering who they would play with – not to mention when or if at all – as they dealt with tide and blast tide across the country.

At least this will not be a problem this season. Every Power Five conference has shown that any team unable to play due to COVID-19 issues will be forced to lose their game. The SEC has even considered financial penalties for teams in trouble, noting that a massive amount of television money would be jeopardized by the canceled games.

“Honestly, anyone who is not vaccinated is taking unnecessary and unwarranted risks,” said Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby. “It is short-sighted not to be vaccinated.”

Indeed, stocks could not be higher.

Clemson, who has played in four of the last six games for national titles, estimated a university-level loss of between $ 70 million and $ 135 million due to COVID-19 in its final fiscal year. About a third came from athletics lost revenue, and the vast majority of it came from declining football ticket sales to ensure proper social distancing.

“It had a significant impact,” said Clemson Vice President of Finance and Facilities Tony Wagner.

That influence extends to television networks that pay millions for the right to air games, along with sponsors, promoters and donors, and a host of other actors who will be looking to see the return on their investment this season.

Even players have a financial stake to stay on the field, now that they can take advantage of their name, image and resemblance.

“The vaccine gives us hope,” said new Kansas coach Lance Leipold, “and we know there will be no delay; there will be seizures. Do you want to be responsible for not playing for a league? So we we have to find ways to put ourselves in the position to play. “