… but you can’t make him drink is the old expression. Unfortunately, it won’t be horses attending football games.
When the Football Bowl Subdivision kicks off its season one week from now, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves plans to be in Hattiesburg, Miss. — watching Southern Miss face South Alabama from a seat in M.M. Roberts Stadium.
There is little doubt in Reeves’ mind that it is safe to play college football amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and little question about the sport’s value to broader society.
“It’s critically important to the mental health and the psyche of all Mississippians, that we have college football,” Reeves told USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday…
In Mississippi, where pre-game revelry at The Grove in Oxford and The Junction in Starkville have become synonymous with college football gamedays, Reeves even went so far as to prohibit tailgating on a statewide level in an executive order, while also capping stadium attendance at 25%.
“We’ve gotten so good at (tailgating) now that, in my opinion, it lends itself the potential to be a high-risk environment for the spread of this virus,” Reeves said.
You can ban tailgates. You can plan down to the nth detail, like Georgia’s Josh Brooks.
Brooks said Georgia’s athletic department first started working on its plan for Sanford Stadium in late April and early May, using regulations from local and state authorities — and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — as a guide.
At the crux of the school’s plan, and most others, is the concept of social distancing — creating at least six feet of separation between fans whenever possible. This starts with seating arrangements, in which blocks of fans are buffered from one another in all directions by empty seats. The same concept applies at stadium entry points, where metal detectors are spaced out, and on the concourse, where a full complement of concession stands will be available for a fraction of the stadium’s normal fans.
Brooks said the school never set out to accommodate a certain number of fans, instead working backwards from what social-distancing measures would allow. Athletic department staffers even mapped out individual sections of the stadium by hand, he said.
In the end, though, it still comes down to hoping fans do the right thing.
In many instances, however, officials recognize it comes down to trust. At the end of a game, the school can open more gates in an attempt to avoid bottlenecking at an exit — but it is ultimately up to fans to utilize them…
As the mayor of Athens-Clarke County in Georgia, Kelly Girtz understands what Bulldogs football means to the community. But he also said there’s “absolutely some uneasiness” on his part about having 23,000 fans at Sanford Stadium for Georgia’s home opener on Oct. 3 — protocols or not.
Girtz said he worries about the possibility that crowds at football games could create a “network” of transmission between SEC cities, elevating the risks of spreading COVID-19 in all of their towns, collectively. He worries about the peripheral activities that come with football — the parties, the bar outings, the fans traveling in from neighboring counties or states to attend a game. And he worries about the burden that college football games with fans could put on first responders in Athens.
Good luck with that. Hope’s been doing a bang up job so far with college football.