With the announcement of a fall sports season in 2021, the Centennial Conference has yet to make a decision on whether they will require athletes to have the COVID-19 vaccine. President Harring released an email late April reiterating that Muhlenberg will be open once again in the fall and added that the College will be requiring students to be vaccinated before their return. While the email specified vaccinations for students, it didn’t mention any plans for vaccinations of other schools and programs that would be on campus (say for an athletic event) and are only “strongly encouraging,” staff and faculty to be vaccinated as well. The email from President Harring, accompanied by the Centennial Conference’s lack of a statement on the vaccination of student-athletes paints an incomplete picture of what the fall sports season will look like.
“At this time, there is no policy within the Centennial Conference that requires COVID vaccinations in order to participate in the 2021-22 academic year,” states Megan Patruno, assistant athletic director. “The athletic directors and presidents will meet several times over the next four to six weeks and I’m sure this will be a topic of discussion. However, at this time, there is no policy in place.” Despite the lack of vaccination requirements, athletes seem to be comfortable with the idea of participating with other athletes who aren’t vaccinated.
“I don’t think the Centennial Conference should require that every athlete be vaccinated,” states Muhlenberg football player Joshua Ferro ‘23. “A lot of people have different reasons on why they aren’t getting the vaccine, and I don’t believe it would be ethical of the Centennial Conference to force students to get a vaccine in order to play.” Fellow teammate Pat Palmer ‘21 echoes the same sentiments as Ferro stating, “I feel there should be a choice whether to get vaccinated or not and just have the Centennial Conference continue testing protocols. That way students don’t have to get the vaccine if they aren’t comfortable with it and can still participate in the athletic season.” Student-athletes are currently required to report weekly for PCR and antigen testing through the date of their final game per conference guidelines, whether they are vaccinated or not.
Both Palmer and Ferro also shared similar stances to competing against players who aren’t vaccinated. “I would be more comfortable if I know that the people I’m competing with are vaccinated, but since I’m getting the vaccine it wouldn’t really bother me,” said Ferro. Palmer also stated that he wouldn’t be bothered by the thought of competing against people who aren’t vaccinated since he will be vaccinated and has dealt with it before. “If I were to contract the virus a third time, the staff will adhere to the testing protocols and alert me right away to quarantine, so I don’t spread the virus to those who are at risk,” states Palmer.
President Harring also mentioned that the College is “strongly recommending” faculty and staff (which includes coaches and trainers) be vaccinated, but it isn’t a requirement as of now. Despite this, athletes seem to be comfortable with the idea of interacting with staff and faculty that aren’t vaccinated, highlighting the effort each member makes to provide a safe environment. “I think the school will require vaccinations for most if not all the staff and coaches eventually,” states Rory Deluca ‘21, another member of the football team. “However, I wouldn’t mind if they weren’t vaccinated as they always adhere to the safety guidelines put in place and create a safe environment for all athletes.”
There are exemptions to the vaccination rule however, and President Harring made sure to cite them in her email. The College plans on employing the same policy they use for any other vaccines when it comes to exemptions for the vaccine. These exemption policies will likely carry over for Muhlenberg athletics as well.