When the Big Ten announced its return to the football field Sept.16, it also came with the news the conference would be playing without fans. Other conferences, however, including the Athletic Coast Conference, Big 12 and South Eastern Conference, have said they will allow fans this season in a limited capacity.
While not being allowed in the stadium is a hard pill to swallow for all college football fans, the Big Ten is making the right decision.
During the first weekend of ACC football, a few schools had fans in the crowd, while others were empty. The University of North Carolina played its first game of the season against Syracuse University in front of an empty crowd in the 51,000-seat Kenan Memorial Stadium. On the other hand, the University of Notre Dame’s crowd of 10,097 students and faculty members mostly followed social distancing, aside from fans featured on Notre Dame Stadium’s comical “Physical Distance Camera.”
However, not every school is playing it safe.
Large groups of fans in Florida State University’s crowd of nearly 18,000 people at Doak Campbell Stadium stood shoulder to shoulder without any face coverings, despite face coverings being required in Leon County, Florida, where the school is located.
Most schools that allow fans at games are putting students and faculty at an even greater risk. They permit fans who aren't students, who are often higher risk demographics, to attend, inviting the virus into their community. It is absolutely reckless to expose a campus ecosystem to a new person during a pandemic just so they can watch a football game for three hours.
For all these schools know, one COVID-19 carrier from out of town could kill a student or someone in their community.
It isn’t just university policies putting students at risk. The students are also blatantly putting themselves in danger, too. The picture of the bunched up and maskless fans at Florida State speaks for itself, and odds are that at many large universities, including those in the Big Ten, you would see a similar scene since many young people are unafraid and ignorant to the risks and regulations regarding COVID-19.
It isn’t just college football that is doing things wrong.
Six of the NFL’s 32 teams have had fans at their games in 2020 in some capacity, and following the first game of the season between the Chiefs and Texans at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, a fan tested positive for COVID-19 forcing everyone who sat around them to quarantine.
Keep in mind, not everyone at that game has been tested — there could very well be a massive outbreak from unknown carriers at the game, just as there has been with myriad other large gatherings. What makes a football game different from any other large event? After all, most schools that are allowing fans aren't taking the same precausions as the University of Texas, requiring all fans attending the game to test negative for the coronavirus before attending.
Today, every Big Ten football game is televised. It is not unreasonable to expect that most students will have a way to watch the game, whether it be provided themselves, through the university or even at a bar — socially distancing of course. Every student who wants to watch their school play will probably be able to.
Why should a university that cares about its students take that risk? Why potentially worsen the spread on campuses across the country that have already had large scale outbreaks, all for the minimal home field advantage that a fractionally full stadium provides?
The Big Ten is making the right decision by closing the gates and keeping fans out this fall. Stay home during the games, and wear a mask when you’re out and about if you want a chance of seeing your school play in person next fall.
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