University of Montana Unlawfully Discriminates Against Unvaccinated Athletes Requiring Masks and Testing
University of Montana Assistant Athletic Trainer Drew Babcock sent a message just after noon on Tuesday to all members of the UM track team stating that per the National Collegiate Athletic Association recommendations, “those not vaccinated need to wear masks while practicing and lifting indoors.”
The school also stated in policy documents that unvaccinated athletes must submit to weekly testing and present two negative COVID tests prior to game day participation. UM athletes shared that if any unvaccinated athlete tests positive, all unvaccinated athletes must sit out the game. Despite vaccinated people being able to transmit SARS-CoV-2, vaccinated individuals, “do not need to COVID test regularly,” according to documents provided by UM officials.
UM policy regarding unvaccinated athletes appears to be a violation of HB-702, a new law passed in the 2021 legislative session. HB-702 states that any public place, public accommodation, or place funded, even in-part, by taxpayer dollars, may not discriminate against individuals based on vaccination status.
The University of Montana, which takes public money for operations, falls under the jurisdiction of the law. If the University is mandating masks and testing for unvaccinated student athletes then, according to the Montana law, UM must also require vaccinated athletes to undergo weekly testing and mask requirements for practices and training, as well.
We reached out to Babcock for comment, but the athletic trainer told MCT that he was not allowed to comment on the rule and referred us to Kent Haslam, UM Director of Athletics. When asked if the UM was in violation of HB-702, Haslam stated he was not a lawyer and that he had heard of the law, but did not know the particulars of HB-702. Haslam also said he was not aware of the mask rule shared by Babcock, “I’m not aware a policy regarding wearing a mask while working out and practicing. We are members of the Big Sky Conference and those who are unvaccinated must be tested,” Haslam told MCT.
The athletics director told MCT that the purpose of mandating testing for unvaccinated individuals is to make it easier for student athletes to travel to other states with vaccine requirements, but that would still put the University at odds with HB-702, requiring unvaccinated student athletes to submit to conditions not required for vaccinated students.
A copy of the policy was not shared with the student athletes by the athletic trainer in his brief announcement. Student athletes told MCT that they believe the policy applied to all athletic teams and requested a copy of the policy regarding vaccinated vs unvaccinated athletes from UM administration.
UM administration provided students with a data chart that details how unvaccinated student athletes are to be handled compared to the vaccinated. The data chart differentiates NCAA “recommendations” with Big Sky Conference “protocol.”
“They don’t seem to be looking at Montana law, just what the NCAA wants,” one student shared.
“House Bill 702 makes clear that discrimination based on vaccine status is illegal in Montana,” State Senator Theresa Manzella (SD-44) shared. “That bill received more support and communication from our citizens than any other bill last session, by far. It was passed by the legislature and signed by the governor and is Montana law. Period.”
The University provided another document to athletes, Big Sky Conference COVID-19 Protocol Key Items (PDF), which summarizes the Big Sky Conference rules for vaccinated and unvaccinated student athletes. In the summary document, vaccinated athletes do not need to test regularly, but unvaccinated athletes must submit to a PCR test once per week and 72-hours prior to travel to a competition.
|Testing (Vaccinated)||Testing (Unvaccinated/Partially Vaccinated)|
|Do not need to COVID test regularly.||Test via PCR once per week (72 hours prior to travel to competition) or via antigen three times per week on non-consecutive days.|
Students shared that their first test will be administered next week to leave enough time for a second test prior to their first competition on December 3rd.
Initially, the University was seeking to charge unvaccinated students for each test, but the students told MCT that UM has acquired enough tests to test every student up until next Spring.COVID-Protocol-Key-Items-2021-22