As a former NC State student and huge fan, I was appalled and disappointed when the NCAA excluded the Wolfpack baseball team from the College World Series.
Then it became political.
“Politics” was the word head coach Elliot Avent used when briefed on his team’s COVID vaccinations: “If you mean baseball, we can talk baseball. If you want to talk about politics or things like that, you can go talk to my head of sports medicine. “
Then the politicians piled up. Former Republican Governor Pat McCrory, candidate for the US Senate, petitioned: “The NCAA may have tried to CANCEL the NC State Wolfpack, but we will not let their nonsense continue. Sign our petition to DEMAND that the President of the NCAA be DISMISSED and that the State of North Carolina be able to compete for a Championship! “
The controversy reignited what The News & Observer called “a multi-year feud between Republicans in North Carolina and the NCAA”. The NCAA had canceled events in North Carolina after the legislature was enacted and McCrory signed the controversial transgender toilet bill House Bill 2. The bill contributed to its small loss to Democrat Roy Cooper in 2016.
Republican Senator Thom Tillis took a hit with the stick. He said the NCAA “got embarrassed” and the Wolfpack deserved a chance to play for the championship. More than 60 Republican lawmakers and three Democrats have signed a letter demanding that NCAA officials answer questions about the disqualification.
All of this raises a question: why haven’t players vaccinated for a long time and avoided the risk of disqualification?
Perhaps the answer is that universities have been told that they cannot require vaccination. In an April 29 memo to university chancellors, UNC system chairman Peter Hans wrote: “Public health officials across the country are striving to achieve full immunization by lowering barriers to immunization. access, creating incentives and persuading hesitant community members. In the absence of clear legal authority for a warrant, the UNC system will follow a similar approach. “
Hans’ statement about “the lack of clear legal authority for a warrant” is questionable, some lawyers argue. “The government can demand seat belts,” one said. Another noted: “Decades ago, the United States Supreme Court ruled that a New York City could require citizens to be vaccinated against smallpox. “
Universities can also require them. Duke University and Wake Forest University, two private universities, require vaccinations. The University of Virginia and Virginia Tech, two public universities, do so as well. Students entering the UNC system must prove that they have received a series of vaccinations – diphtheria / tetanus / pertussis, measles, mumps, rubella, and hepatitis B.
Hans, the president of the UNC, is a wise and experienced political actor. He’s a popular Republican and respected by Democrats, including me. It needs to be responsive to the legislature, which appoints the Board of Governors, which has the power to hire and fire presidents.
UNC-Chapel Hill has been embroiled in the Nikole Hannah-Jones tenure controversy for weeks. In the current climate, Hans may have felt the need to consult with powerful Republican politicians like Pro Senate Speaker Tem Phil Berger and President Tim Moore on vaccination warrants.
Just as some people at UNC-Chapel Hill believe Berger opposed Hannah-Jones, some people at NC State are certain that Berger’s hand was behind Hans’s position.
Since the pandemic erupted last year, Republican politicians in North Carolina and across the country have laughed at wearing masks, opposed closures and resisted vaccinations.
Now when you see some of the same politicians blaming the NCAA for the fate of the Wolfpack, ask yourself what the ultimate responsibility is. COVID vaccinations have become political, and it has consequences. NC State’s lost dream of a national baseball championship is the latest consequence.
Gary Pearce was a reporter and editor at The News & Observer, political consultant and advisor to Governor Jim Hunt (1976-1984 and 1992-2000). He blogs about politics and public policy at www.NewDayforNC.com.