Football Is Played Outdoors. Open the Stadiums.

by Kerry Dougherty

Had this been an ordinary Saturday afternoon in September, I would have scanned the “crowd” at the Marshall v Eastern Kentucky football game and shaken my head.

Attendance was sparse. People were seated in knots of small groups throughout the stands. Some were solo. It looked as if the Joan C. Edwards Stadium – which holds 38,227 – was about one-third full.

But, dang these fans were making some noise.

My son attended Marshall and I’ve been to that stadium many times. Fifty years after the plane crash that killed most of the team and coaching staff, they treasure college football in Huntington, West Virginia.

Last Saturday’s anemic crowd was simply college football in 2020 thanks to the fear of COVID-19, which had some colleges, including ODU and the entire Big 10 conference cancelling their seasons.

Yes, I saw the opinion piece by ODU President John Broderick and Wood Selig in yesterday’s Washington Post defending their decision. What did you expect them to pen, a big mea culpa as they watch the rest of Conference USA playing without them?

I also read the fearful comments by Karens on social media, fretting that Herd  fans weren’t wearing masks in the stands.

How about we all try to flatten the fear a little bit? It was 80 degrees outside in Huntington and outdoor spread of COVID is rare. There was nothing particularly dangerous about this behavior. The players are young and healthy and – despite the hair-on-fire headlines about teams with positive tests – by all reports the athletes are mostly asymptomatic and faring well.

Oh, and no one will be forced to attend a college football game this fall. If you believe sitting in a half empty stadium on a sunny Saturday afternoon is risky, you’re free to stay home. What am I saying? Most of us who long to attend a college football game won’t be able to get a ticket this fall.

The happy scene at Marshall, where the Herd showed no mercy to the FCS Colonels, will not be repeated in Virginia.

Gov. Ralph Northam, who seems to be a devotee of numerology rather than science, has decreed that college games in the commonwealth may have no more than 1,000 fans in the stands. No matter how big the stadium.


That means Liberty, with a stadium that holds 25,000 fans, will have just 1,000 tickets available and so will Virginia Tech in stadium that seats 66,233.

It also means the Cavalier on horseback will not gallop into Scott Stadium in Charlottesville to the cheers of 61,500. It will be a paltry group of 1,000.

In fact, any noise coming from the handful of spectators allowed to attend games by our all-powerful governor will be diffused over row after row of empty seats. Without the energy of fans, Virginia’s teams will give away much of their home-field advantage.

At last count, 77 colleges were playing football this fall. A few are not allowing fans at the early games but it seems most stadiums will allow between 20 and 25% capacity in their stands. Doesn’t it make sense to gauge your crowd on the size of your stadium rather than some arbitrary number?

Meanwhile, Northam is insisting on fewer than 2% attendance, which is ludicrous.

Why the 1,000 limit? The governor can’t give a reason based in science because there isn’t any. Just as there was no real reason to demand that King’s Dominion and the 383-acre Busch Gardens limit visitors to 1,000 a day, which resulted in the parks closing and thousands of jobs lost.

Northam has a thing for the number 1,000. That’s the only possible answer.

It’s worth noting that most experts believe that the spikes in the coronavirus this summer were due largely to people retreating into air conditioning, not from outdoor gatherings. The virus thrives in cool, dry air and is barely airborne in a hot, humid atmosphere.

College football may seem unimportant to those who do not understand the extent of its reach. But when football is cancelled, especially in small college towns, the entire economy suffers. Hotel rooms are empty, restaurants, too. Everything from convenience stores to liquor stores is damaged.

My daughter attended Ole Miss. Once, during the dreadful Coach Houston Nutt era, I took my car into a service station in Oxford, MS. The manager complained about how bad business had been because people weren’t going to games to watch the team lose. His wife, who cleaned rental homes on football weekends, was out of work.

Cancelling football, or restricting it to the point where almost no one is allowed to attend, hurts more than just the fans. It has a domino effect through localities that are already suffering.

This is just one more sector of the economy where powerful governors arbitrarily pick winners and losers.

Virginia is a loser. Thanks to Northam.

This column was published with permission from Kerry: Unemployed & Unedited.

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18 responses to “Football Is Played Outdoors. Open the Stadiums.”

  1. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Gee. What happened at JMU?

    1. What happened at JMU?

      Sounds to me like JMU brought 10s of thousands of young people together from all over the country for the fall semester, didn’t have an effective plan for dealing with COVID-19, got lots of them infected, and is now sending them home to infect their older more at risk parents.

      “Fauci Urges Colleges Not to Send Students Home”

  2. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    He’s BACK! Tanned. Rested. And ready to bash the labor union boogeymen!

    1. Peter, you are right about two things: I am tanned, and I am rested.

      Two out of three ain’t bad.

      But I am not “bashing” anyone, just describing political reality.

  3. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Sorry I meant to put that on Jim BAcon’s post

    1. That’s okay, but I’m only tanned. One out of three here.

  4. LarrytheG Avatar

    Ah, but the professional sports ARE unionized but Kerry wants to talk about non-professional sports stadiums!

    One would think that if money were an important issue that surely professional sports would lead the way on the public buying tickets to games, no?

    It’s the bathrooms that are an issue by the way – and the concessions… not just sitting in the stadium.

    If you closed the concessions and the bathrooms – and people sat apart, no problem but we all know that won’t work even if Kerry won’t admit it.

    1. Nancy_Naive Avatar

      “One would think that if money were an important issue that surely professional sports would lead the way on the public buying tickets to games, no?”

      Have to disagree with you here. The NCAA is closest thing to a real live honest to God plantation as can be found since 1860 in Mississippi. They make pro-sports look like pikers.

      They pay no wages, social security and medicare taxes, don’t actually employ the athletes, don’t own or maintain stadiums, don’t sell tickets, don’t really even do the heavy lift of negotiating tv rights. They collect cash in cardboard boxes like a Medellín Cartel.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        Oh, no question about Collegiate – but that’s like a secret economy compared to the “pros” who make no pretence about it at all.. Millions for franchise players – gotta get that money to pay them.

        Now, the interesting thing is that they can and are going to televise but one does wonder how that will work with anemic crowds …. but who knows.

        In theory Colleges don’t need Collegiate – they’re “walled off” and portrayed as separate entities that just happen co-exist.

  5. Nancy_Naive Avatar

    Someone hasn’t been in a stadium in a long time. But, do prattle.

  6. LarrytheG Avatar

    Oh long enough to remember what the bathrooms and concessions look like at halftime…

    And it’s not like the “pros” have fixed this problem, no?

    When’s the next Washington football game?

    1. Nancy_Naive Avatar

      I meant Kerry. She probably watched the game on a stream, or one of the extremely high number satellite channels.

  7. Gee, it almost sounded like Kerry was acknowledging that the wearing of masks at indoor public gathering will indeed save lives. Not holding my breath though. She also always glosses over the point that actions on an individual or group level that contribute to community spread hurt everyone and hinder efforts to mitigate the virus. Look at the wedding reception in Maine that has been traced to 150 cases and 3 deaths and yes it did violate state restrictions. Most of the people affected did not choose to attend the reception. So Kerry merely choosing to not attend a football game is not the answer.

    1. John Harvie Avatar
      John Harvie

      So what is the answer?

      We all hibernate for six more months?

  8. 3 W’s
    -wear a mask
    -wait and stay 6 feet apart
    -wash your hands
    Experience has shown that we need most everyone to buy in.

  9. Baconator with extra cheese Avatar
    Baconator with extra cheese

    I think the real story here is how the outspoken anti-racism universities are putting the black bodies of athletes at risk for TV contract profits. With today’s extreme rhetoric this seems very counterintuitive to what I would guess educators would be supporting in social justice terms. Especially with the ‘Rona disproportionally impacting POCs and the huge national narative on the subject.
    I will bet there will be massive lawsuits and settlements paid out if one of these atheletes die or their illness affects their draft status.
    The universities should shut it down like good democrats and furlough all sports and events staff.

  10. You missed a point about closing down football. It has little to do with the fans, who can come to games or not as they choose. The players, on the other hand, have to play to keep their scholarships. They are indentured workers and don’t have the right to say “no” without endangering their educations. It is their safety that is paramount, and at risk. They will be traveling together on closed buses or planes, breathing on top of each other in huddles. All it takes is one kid and the team goes down (as in Rutgers — 28 football players tested positive plus numerous coaches). Sorry about the fans who are missing the sport, but that’s the wrong focus.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      Who pays for those scholarships in the first place? The school or the football team?

      I suspect they’re not “indentured servants” but instead – playing to pay for their tuition, room & board, etc….

      It’s like a separate enterprise that just happens to be co-located with the schools like other tenant activities!

      The other problem with both athletes and non- athletes is what happens if they do get infected? Can’t send them home, right?

      so just hold them in isolation until they recover – and who pays for their medical and other costs? The Sports team?

      not so simple digging down……….

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