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
Texas A&M 102,733
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.