It appears more and more likely that we are going to have a college football season this fall. That's what we like to hear.
You know what else we like to see? The transition from "will we have a college football season?" to "will we have fans at college football games this fall?"
There was this tweet from Gene Smith last night that detailed how many fans could be expected at The Horseshoe:
And then this article from John Talty came out today:
Some schools will have the ability to still have their normal number of fans such as UAB:
Others have focused on a compromise: A limited capacity stadium that factored in social distancing to minimize risk.
“Because we play at Legion Field and it’s such a large stadium, we can do it and still have every single fan that wants to come and watch us; we can do it with ease,” UAB athletic director Mark Ingram said. “We may end up taking the tarps off the endzones if we had to.”
One issue that didn't pop into my head when I saw Gene Smith's tweet was "who gets the tickets?" A large number of stadiums sell out every weekend. How does a Texas A&M choose who gets in?
Within Talty's article, a Power 5 administrator estimated that stadiums will be 20% full. For A&M or Alabama that would be around 20,000 tickets. Do you let the free market decide the price on those? Do you just let boosters buy them all up and live with the backlash from 95% of your fans?
Another option, one this Power 5 school is leaning toward, is dividing the games into different ticket packages. For instance, at a school like Alabama, that could mean creating one ticket package that features home games against Georgia, Texas A&M, and Kent State and another of Auburn, Mississippi State and Georgia State. You’d still risk upsetting fans who can’t go to every game, but it’d ensure far more fans can at least get into some games. And you could still let your top donors have first pick on the ticket package and seats they want.
“More palatable to give everyone a little taste,” the administrator said.
Another option they have to consider: students. Notre Dame's AD says that he will want to give students the first chance at tickets before alumni season ticket holders. That then runs the risk that you anger your alumni. There are so many things to juggle here, including student fees:
many schools receive millions of dollars in student fees that cover things like football tickets. If schools were to shut out the students entirely, they’d risk forfeiting those student fees and plunging their athletic departments into even worse financial struggles. According to an NBC News report, Conference USA member UNC Charlotte collects a whopping $21.6 million in student fees. That same report showed multiple FBS schools, including Old Dominion and Florida International, deriving more than 50 percent of their athletic department revenue from student fees.
What would be the hit if no fans were allowed? UCF estimates that they'd lose out on $30 million. Alabama made 36.1 million in revenue last year on ticket sales and that doesn't even account for the donations that are often needed for season ticket purchases.
Let's say 15,000 fans are allowed in. How would you enforce social distancing within those fans? Imagine having to force 5,000 drunk college kids during an SEC game to socially distance. It sounds like a nightmare.
“You expect 15,000 college football fans to exit in an orderly fashion when their row number is called? I’m sorry, you’ve got a lot more faith in fans than I do, especially if some of them have been drinking,” said Zachary Binney, an epidemiologist at Emory University. “I don’t know how you reliably would keep people apart when they are entering and exiting a stadium.”
UAB athletic director Mark Ingram made a perfect analogy about trying to plan for all of this:
“Every time you think, ‘OK, this is how I think we’d do this,’ it pops up a new thing,” Ingram said. “It’s like the game Whac-A-Mole.”