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The Link Between Football Game Attendance and COVID-19

The Link Between Football Game Attendance and COVID-19

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I enjoy watching football, pro and college. The resumption of the NFL season three weeks ago was a welcome respite from watching reruns of last year’s games.

But as college football resumed its play, I noticed one difference. None of the NFL teams appeared to have spectators in attendance. Most of the college games, however, had spectators. Whenever the cameras provided shots of the stands, most of them were of fans appearing to keep a social distance and wearing masks. However, most does not mean all.

With the reversal of decisions not to play football this fall by the Big 10 (last week) and the PAC-12 (yesterday), all of the Power 5 conferences will have football games this fall. This weekend is notable because the SEC has seven games scheduled. The home games are at Ole Miss, Auburn, LSU, Arkansas, Missouri, Texas A&M, and South Carolina. Eight of the teams are in the pre-season top 25 rankings.

Pre-COVID-19, the football stadium capacities for those SEC schools with home games this weekend were:

Ole Miss          64,038

Auburn            87,451

LSU                  102,321

Arkansas         76,212

Missouri          62,621

Texas A&M     102,733

Carolina           80,250

The COVID-19 capacities are:

Ole Miss          16,009 (25%)

Auburn            17,490 (20%)

LSU                  25,580 (25%)

Arkansas         16-17,480 (21-23%)

Missouri          15,655 (25%)

Texas A&M     25,683 (25%)

Carolina          16,050 (20%)

While these capacities have been substantially reduced from the pre-COVID-19 capacities, these are not small crowds. I’m willing to guess that these games will have the highest gathering of people since the pandemic social distancing began in March.

I’ve heard that most of the schools have banned pre-game tailgates in the parking lots, but that doesn’t mean that people filing into the stadiums through the entrances will keep their spacing at six feet. Once in the stadium, how many spectators will congregate at the refreshment stands or bathrooms, sight unseen from the TV audience? How many will congregate in the stands or take their masks off once seated? How many will forget to wear a mask when leaving the stands for refreshments or a bathroom break? How many will shed their masks to shout in support for their team?

I’m not too worried about the athletes playing the game this weekend. From what I hear, most colleges are testing their athletes frequently and employing special protocols before allowing them to rejoin the team after testing positive.

But I am interested in following the number of COVID-19 cases in the communities two weeks after this week’s games. Most of the southern states represented by the SEC have seen the number of COVID-19 cases increase over the summer.

Will these games create a spike in cases? Inside Higher Ed published an article today about county COVID counts rising after colleges resumed in-person classes. The cutoff point for their analysis was September 15. Sadly, a similar analysis tracking the impact of this week’s games might not be published until October 15th or 22nd.

Time will tell us if allowing 15-25,000 spectators to attend college football games was a wise decision. The NFL made the safe decision.

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Wally Boston Dr. Wallace E. Boston was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of American Public University System (APUS) and its parent company, American Public Education, Inc. (APEI) in July 2004. He joined APUS as its Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer in 2002. In July 2016, he retired as APUS president and continued as CEO of APEI. In September 2017, he was reappointed APUS president after the resignation of Dr. Karan Powell. In September 2019, Angela Selden was named CEO of APEI, succeeding Dr. Boston who will remain APUS president until his planned retirement in June 2020. Dr. Boston guided APUS through its successful initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association in 2006 and ten-year reaccreditation in 2011. In November 2007, he led APEI to an initial public offering on the NASDAQ Exchange. During his tenure, APUS grew to over 100,000 students, 200 degree and certificate programs, and approximately 90,000 alumni. In addition to his service as a board member of APUS and APEI, Dr. Boston is a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA), a member of the Board of Overseers of the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, a board member of the Presidents’ Forum, and a board member of Hondros College of Nursing and Fidelis, Inc. He has authored and co-authored papers on the topic of online post-secondary student retention, and is a frequent speaker on the impact of technology on higher education. Dr. Boston is a past Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the McDonogh School, a private K-12 school in Baltimore. In his career prior to APEI and APUS, Dr. Boston served as either CFO, COO, or CEO of Meridian Healthcare, Manor Healthcare, Neighborcare Pharmacies, and Sun Healthcare Group. Dr. Boston is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant, and Chartered Global Management Accountant. He earned an A.B. degree in History from Duke University, an MBA in Marketing and Accounting from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In 2008, the Board of Trustees of APUS awarded him a Doctorate in Business Administration, honoris causa, and, in April 2017, also bestowed him with the title President Emeritus. Dr. Boston lives in Owings Mills, MD with his wife Sharon and their two daughters.

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