And in our latest episode of a College Football Noir series that has become the 2020 norm …
We find university accountants lurking about in dark stadium tunnels trying to turn black and white scenes into the color of ticket sales money.
It’s one thing to present a fall college football season during the coronavirus, a brand of fun designed to include great games and desperately needed TV revenue.
It’s quite another to come up with a safe, sensible, equitable way to have fans in the stands — if that’s possible.
South Carolina and Georgia this week were among SEC schools that put forth seating plans (Clemson has yet to announce its policy) as opening Saturdays approach (Sept. 12 for the ACC and Sept. 26 for the SEC).
South Carolina wants to allow 20,000 fans inside 80,250-seat Williams-Brice Stadium for five home games within a conference-only SEC schedule.
Georgia is aiming for a 20-25 percent capacity at 92,746-seat Sanford Stadium, or roughly 18,500 to 23,000 fans per home kickoff.
That’s pretty much the going rate.
And way too ambitious.
How about a better, more cautious, more player-friendly attendance system?
One that allows the entertainers on the field to profit from their efforts toward saving athletic departments, universities, TV networks, local businesses, sports media outlets and gambling institutions from red ink, job losses, salary cuts and layoffs.
It’s not just for top donors.
It grows the game.
A universal university college football fan attendance proposal, in three phases:
Phase I: Loud sans fans
More campuses are closing by the day, going online from here to spring semester. At least.
That sure doesn’t mean students have gone home for more boring months with their parents; college towns are almost as crowded as ever, typically packed with maskless students.
S.C. Governor Henry McMaster, for a reason, has ordered that arenas hold no more than 250 fans per event (both South Carolina and Clemson have received football waivers).
So why invite 20,000 outsiders — surely with more non-ticket holders in tow — into campus environments within the next month?
Particularly while watching Major League Baseball, the NBA and NHL play on sans fans.
The SEC is telling member schools to make sure fans wear masks. But surely not while eating or drinking, which is what fans are doing all the time.
Just another reason why it’s safest to go completely fanless early, including for Clemson’s Sept. 19 home opener against The Citadel and South Carolina’s Sept. 26 home opener against Tennessee. That also gives operations staffs a dry run or two with stadium personnel, security and TV crews on site.
The South Carolina and Clemson bands are practicing, They will make sure it’s loud, as long as there’s a little noise piped in between fight songs.
Phase II: 10,000 masks
Hopefully, individual state and campus COVID-19 numbers improve enough for turnstile movement and longer lines at Bojangles pick-up windows.
A crowd of 10,000 seems way smarter than double that.
• Four tickets per person for the family members of approximately 120 players and 30 coaches and key staff members (600 total)
• 10 tickets per player that the 120 players are allowed to sell through the university at market price (1,200 total)
• A game-by-game lottery for season-ticket holders (3,000 total)
• A game-by-game lottery for students, most of whom are getting ripped off paying full in-person prices for classes to be held full-time or part-time online (3,000 total)
• 500 tickets for the visiting team’s parents and fans (500 total)
• Free tickets for 750 kids and an accompanying grown-up in each given community in an effort to share fun and address college football’s alarming attendance dip over the last decade (1,500 total)
• Free tickets for 100 recruits and an accompanying family member (200 total)
Phase III: Wait ‘til 2021
No more than 10,000 fans until 2021, a vaccine, new medicine or incredible data.
This is just to be relatively safe, within the context of pent-up demand threatening to storm the gates at Death Valley, Williams-Brice Stadium and facilities from Lubbock to Chestnut Hill.
Which is one reason why schools are discouraging tailgating and pep rallies.
I know this will not be popular, but there will be no game day social gatherings around stadiums: rallies, parties, tailgates. It’s no fun, but it’s what allows the athletes to play. I’d still rather be in the SEC with no tailgates, than the PAC-12 or Big 10 with no football.
— Tate Reeves (@tatereeves) August 20, 2020
That includes Ole Miss, where fine dining at The Grove is a campus art form and, as new head coach Lane Kiffin is about to find out, more important than the games themselves.
But that didn’t keep Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves from defending his Grove turf and firing off a few Twitter shots at conferences that have opted out of fall football.
“I know this will not be popular, but there will be no game day social gatherings around stadiums: rallies, parties, tailgates,” Reeves tweeted Thursday. “It’s no fun, but it’s what allows the athletes to play. I’d still rather be in the SEC with no tailgates, than the PAC-12 or Big 10 with no football”
And SEC or ACC football with no fans or a few thousand fans is better than more long months of political football.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff