College football kicks off this weekend amid a growing number of COVID-19 cases throughout the country and uncertainty on how the rise will impact games this fall.
Last season, there were a significant number of contests postponed or called off when schools were unable to field teams due to protocols during the pandemic. This season, the advent of a vaccine has allayed some of the fears that the uncertainty could stretch into this season.
To address the situation, several conferences have clarified how games that cannot be played will be handled, and some schools have set attendance policies to try and safeguard players and fans.
American Athletic Conference
The American Athletic Conference said Aug. 4 that if one team can't play because of COVID-19, it will forfeit and the game won't be rescheduled.
Atlantic Coast Conference
All teams that have to forfeit games will be given a loss in the standings, and the team that didn't have a COVID issue will be awarded a win. If both teams can't play they will have to forfeit and are credited with a loss in the conference standings. The conference also said that fully vaccinated people no longer have to participate in a surveillance testing regime.
Boston College is requiring proof of vaccine or a negative COVID-19 test for fans to attend home football games. Staff and students are required to get vaccinated.
Big Ten Conference
The conference announced that if a team is unable to participate due to COVID-19 in a conference game, it is a forfeit and the team affected will be charged with a loss with no makeup date allowed. If both teams are affected and cannot play, the game will be considered a “no contest.”
Ohio State is requiring its staff and students to be vaccinated. However, fans can attend a football game in Columbus without proof of vaccination or a negative test.
Big 12 Conference
The Big 12 policy mirrors the ones the ACC and Big Ten have with forfeiture being applied if a team can't participate due to COVID. If needed, an unbalanced tiebreaker would be used to determine the teams participating in the conference championship game.
No announcement has been made regarding the league's COVID-19 policy.In response to a directive from the New Orleans mayor, Tulane will require anyone attending its home game Sept. 4 against Oklahoma to provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of the contest.
Notre Dame announced that masking will be optional for vaccinated guests while outdoors or in non-enclosed spaces while the non-vaccinated are expected to wear masks on campus. Everyone will be required to wear a mask in indoor areas of Notre Dame Stadium.
No other independent schools have announced their policies going into Week 0.
MACtion will be grounded if a team gets a COVID outbreak during the season. The team affected will be forced to forfeit.
Mountain West Conference
If a conference game can't be played as scheduled, the game is considered a forfeit for the team affected and will not be rescheduled. A “no contest" is declared if both teams can't participate, with there being no minimum roster thresholds for competition.
Hawaii announced Aug. 20 that no fans will be allowed to attend home sporting events due to the rise in COVID-19 cases in the state. The decision will be reevaluated if circumstances change.
The conference announced Aug. 12 that any team unable to play due to COVID-19 protocol could have to forfeit its game with commissioner George Kliavkoff having some discretion.
"If an institution is unable to play a contest through its own fault, it shall forfeit such contest to its opponent,” a statement from the league said. “Any forfeit shall be regarded as a conference loss for the team making the forfeit and a conference win for its opponent. The Pac-12 rule provides the commissioner with discretion to determine whether an institution is at fault or primarily at fault for an inability to play a contest based on the facts of the situation.”
Oregon and Oregon State are requiring anyone over the age of 12 attending home games to provide proof of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine or a negative COVID test within 72 hours of the game. Everyone age 5 and over will be required to wear masks.
Oregon's first home game is Sept. 4 against Fresno State. Oregon State plays its initial contest at home Sept. 11 against Hawaii.
The conference has yet to announce anything in terms of forfeiting games.
LSU announced Aug. 24 that any person age 12 or older must present a proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of the game in order to attend home games. The state of Louisiana has a low vaccination rate and has seen cases rise this month.
Sun Belt Conference
In an attempt to encourage vaccinations among players and administrators, league commissioner Keith Gill said July 21 that any school unable to play would be required to forfeit the game. No matchups will be rescheduled.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College football season kicks off amid widely different COVID policies