Fargo

The email hit the inbox at 11:02 a.m. on a Tuesday and for a few minutes anyway, the thought of any sort of pandemic and all of the rigamarole that went into Division I FCS football from the summer of 2020 until two weeks ago vanished. For a few minutes, anyway, COVID-19 vanished.

North Dakota State set a sports information office release record for most nonconference football games announced at one time. The Bison rescheduled the 2020 game with Oregon for 2028, will host the University of St. Thomas in 2025, moved the Central Arkansas game in 2025 to one year later and added a single game with Austin Peay in 2026 and a home-and-home series with East Tennessee State in 2024 and 2026.

Even the head coach felt a sense of the-athletic-world-is-OK for a moment.

“It’s exciting to see our future schedules continue to grow and develop,” Bison head coach Matt Entz said. “Seeing these games brings a level of normalcy that’s been missing for the last 12 to 14 months.”

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The NDSU schedule makers can now relax and smoke a few cigars for a while. Hopefully by the time the Oregon game rolls around we’ll have this COVID-19 thing figured out. Hopefully by this fall, but I’m losing confidence by the day.

If Friday, March 13, 2020, was what I would consider the start of the pandemic and its effect on athletics, then 11:02 a.m. on Tuesday was the beginning to the end.

Normalcy is not going to happen overnight, of course. It’s going to be a step-by-step process and normal may not happen on Sept. 4 when the Bison open their football season against the State University of New York at Albany (from here on out known as Albany State). I would be surprised, if not shocked, if Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome sold out.

It’s going to take time for society to feel comfortable with the rest of society.

The fact 49% of North Dakotans have received at least one dose means the other 51% as of Wednesday have other reasons not to take the shot. And that’s fine.

With vaccinations readily available to anybody over the age of 12, taking it has morphed from when it will be available to being a choice. It’s your choice.

It will be your choice to go to the game.

And nobody is really saying it because a public conversation about vaccination can be taken as taboo, but I’ll say it.

If requiring student-athletes to be vaccinated is the only way to avoid weekly testing, then sign us up. There are exceptions, of course, and language can be incorporated for those that have a valid reason against it.

But I’m living in this world. Count me, as a parent of a college student-athlete, all in.

NDSU president Dean Bresciani said during this spring FCS football season that he believes a league can require vaccinations. Locally, that would mean the Missouri Valley Football Conference and the Summit League.

The NCAA dipped its big toe in the water a month ago when its medical advisory group recommended that fully vaccinated student-athletes and other Tier 1 individuals with no COVID-19-like symptoms “may be exempt from routine testing.”

Tier 1 folks are defined as those with the highest risk of exposure at championships that include team travel parties and officials. Those who are not vaccinated must continue testing. The NCAA also said those that are fully vaccinated do not need to quarantine after exposure to someone suspected of COVID-19.

It was noted, however, that this policy takes a backseat to state or local authorities guidance on testing.

This is not over by a long shot.

Our family drove and flew thousands of miles to watch the youngest play baseball. Every trip was a pins-and-needles proposition because we never knew when a doubleheader or weekend series would get axed. All it took was one positive test. There was the time when the clan was in Bismarck waiting for the University of Minnesota Duluth bus to leave port, only to be delayed because all the tests were not in. After several hours, it finally did. That was close.

There will be opposition to any governing body that takes up the student-athlete vaccination question. Maybe it’s the public nature of this job and the way I grew up, but I have no problem taking a stance.