Will college football fans ever come back?

A view from last year's Florida-Georgia game at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville. [Bob Self/Florida Times-Union]
While school presidents and conference commissioners continue to earn their Zoom rewards points and try to figure out when there will be football, it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where there will be any major home field advantages this season.
How loud can it get with small crowds who are socially distanced? I mean, don’t even think about trying to do “The Wave.” (Although, come to think about it, maybe that’s the one bright spot of this virus — no more waves.)
We know we are going to see something different not only in terms of schedules, but as far as fannies in the seats go.
“People are scared to go out,” said Dennis Dodd, of CBS Sports. “And who knows when they won’t be?”
That’s the question. When will we get back to packed stadiums … if we ever do at all?
We know that for the next couple of years that people are going to be less inclined to sit butt-cheek to butt-cheek next in the sweltering heat of The Swamp or Bryant-Denny or either Death Valley.
I just wonder if it’ll ever come back.
We might have seen the biggest crowds in the history of a majority of the nation’s football cathedrals. Maybe, five, 10 years from now, there is a game so big and this virus is in our rear-view that fans are paying ridiculous amounts to be in the stadium so they can scream themselves hoarse.
But it feels like this whole ordeal has changed us in many ways.
“It will change every aspect of society,” said Paul Finebaum, the expert on everything SEC. “There are some people who will never go back to football games.
“I’ve even talked to people who have told me privately they will never go back to press boxes.”
That’s a decision this old man won’t have to make for a while, but, shoot, there may not even be press boxes soon. With an opportunity to sell those seats where social distancing is easiest and there is access to numerous bathrooms and plenty of room, you wonder if we might be told to watch the game on Billy Donovan Court and quotes will be passed out later.
OK, so I’m getting a little off the subject here, but not entirely.
Remember that before we had a college football season in jeopardy, full stadiums for non-playoff games were becoming as common this decade as Dallas Cowboys playoff wins.
“Even before March 17, the biggest issue in college football was attendance,” Finebaum said. “You know it and I know it.”
It’s not a trend that is expected to reverse itself. In 2019, college football attendance hit a 24-year low. Even the SEC — where football is a religious experience — attendance was the lowest in 19 years. In the Pac-12, the crowds were the smallest since they started keeping track in 1978.
Athletic directors around the country have been trying to schedule sexier opponents, but they are still more likely to contract their stadium capacity than expand it.
And that was before all of this hit.
“People are going to be a lot more judicious about whether they go to games,” said ESPN’s Chris Low. “Certainly in the short term, it’s going to be a slow go. I think they will come back, but even (Alabama coach) Nick Saban told me that they have to give the fans a reason to go to the games.”
Again, there are two issues here that could create one bigger issue. College football is becoming more and more of a TV show, studio football if you will. We have no idea when fans will feel comfortable with attending games again, especially anyone in the danger zone age-wise.
We miss football even though there would be no football going on right now. We miss it because we’re worried about when it will return. We can’t start countdowns to a season with no start date.
So you would think that would make us want to be in the stadiums even more. Of course, we don’t. We want to be able to watch football this fall. We don’t necessarily want to risk our lives waiting to use the bathroom.
But — like pretty much everything during this pandemic — we can’t predict where we will be four years from now when Miami makes a return trip to The Swamp or two years later when the Cal Bears play here for the second time ever.
Scott Stricklin, the Florida AD, told me he believes in the human spirit and believes fans will eventually return. He also pointed out something he read recently, that just after the terrible Spanish Flu epidemic in 1918, it was followed by something called “The Roaring Twenties,” which was about as freewheeling a time as there ever was in the nation.
Maybe I should dust off the Peaky Blinders and spats.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.


  1. 66% of the NEW CASES up north from the ”Communist Chinese Virus” were reported from people who were ”stuck in homes.” So… facts aren’t always too popular these days.
    Go Gators is eternal, though!

      • Sad you’re so BRIAINWSASHED! I wear face masks butt head! Get a damn clue!

        ALBANY — The majority of recently hospitalized coronavirus patients in New York are people who have followed the precautions of staying at home, (N.Y.) Gov. Cuomo (D) said Wednesday (05-13-20).


          • I know I should be the more mature adult here but I can’t just let this go.

            So, first off, you owe me an apology. I think the name calling and harassment is over the top. I’m really not surprised by it, but it is over the top.

            Second, in the article you reference, it clearly states “recently hospitalized”. You stated “NEW CASES”. The best data I can find shows about a 10.7% hospitalization rate with COVID-19. Now perhaps you are unable to distinguish between the two but I assure you “recently hospitalized”is not the same as “NEW CASES”.

            I stand by my assertion. You have made up “facts” to fit your political narrative. Plain and simple. You read what you want to read instead of looking for truth. My political rant is that it is folks like you that are giving our enemies the blueprint for our destruction. The very fact that the US response to this virus has been so chaotic and disorganized is not being ignored by those that want to harm us. And folks that create “facts” are the pawns for our enemies.

  2. Hey David, scared you look DUMB and IGNORANT!?!?!

    Search Results for 66 % of NEW CASES of CORONA VIRUS.

    Cuomo: Most new NY coronavirus hospitalizations are from …www.cnbc.com › 2020/05/06 › ny-gov-cuomo-says-its…

    ”May 6, 2020 – Early look at data from 100 New York hospitals shows that 66% of new … most new coronavirus hospitalizations are people who had been staying home … Andrew Cuomo says it’s ‘shocking’ most new coronavirus cases were…”

    Sad you lefty FACELESS BOYS all talk a big talk with NO FACTS! Just emotion you tool! ‘

    CHOMP-CHOMP, boy!

  3. It is interesting that the default position of the left is to make things up and pass as facts. That is how we got the Russia conspiracy for the last three years. However this is a sports forum and I digress….. Let’s have some football.

  4. Folks, this is the first “political” viral pandemic in human history. Whether we like it or not, 75% of Americans who self-identify as Republicans sincerely believe the worst of it is behind us, while 75% of Americans who self-identify as Democrats sincerely believe the worst of it is still ahead of us. The prescribed solutions for dealing with what comes next are radically different, depending on which political viewpoint you agree with.

    Since over 90% of journalists in ALL the mainstream media outlets (especially ESPN) are registered Democrats, only one of those viewpoints and one set of prescriptions will get positive coverage, as long as Democrats DON’T control Congress and the White House. So, if America wants college football as we knew it in 2019 to return any time soon, there’s only one viable way to make it happen: Vote Democrat on November 3rd!

    IF Democrats take back the White House and Congress in November, the media will hail it as a great victory for “science and rational thinking.” Their constant fear mongering about this pandemic will recede and a hopeful narrative will take its place.

    By December, a “miraculous vaccine” will somehow be developed and mass produced. The government will pass a law requiring every American wishing to return to work, school or ANY public event (like college football games) to get vaccinated. Public health IDs will be issued to those who submit to this new law. The media will celebrate it and ostracize ALL who refuse to get vaccinated, branding them as “health science deniers.” All globalist corporate sports entities (NFL, NBA, MLB, etc.) as well as ALL universities in the US will require the showing valid health IDs before allowing anyone to attend one of their games in person.

    By January, a modified college football season will commence under the above mentioned public health rules and will be roundly celebrated by all outlets of the mainstream media. All will be well… EXCEPT, of course, for our American republic as originally founded, which is SO YESTERDAY anyway!

    Small price for ALL Americans to pay to get our college football back, don’t you ALL agree???

  5. Everyone is being so dramatic with this virus. Of course we will be back in stadiums again. 1918 killed over 50 MILLION people, including high percentages of young people, and we were in stadiums after that. This hasn’t been close. It’s proven to not be as dangerous as first suspected. Adjust with the facts. College campuses should be back this Fall as 20 year olds handle this well.
    We have the flu every year and we are in stadiums. Get a grip everyone.

    • Arnold, with all due respect, we Gator fans didn’t ask for this mess. And we ALL know where there’s a will (political or otherwise) there’s always a way.

      We’re MUCH better informed about this virus than we were back in March. A protocol can be devised that would allow healthy students to return to class in the fall. Another protocol can be devised that would allow the football season to start on time with proper testing for the players and sideline personnel.

      However, the folks who will be making those decisions are not motivated to do anything that would allow life to return to normal before November 3rd. So, it won’t.

      If you wish to call this comment political, then so be it. That won’t change what’s most likely to happen, which will be NO FOOTBALL before November 3rd, 2020.

    • BTW, Pat Dooley was onto something a few weeks ago when he suggested that a modified football season begin on Saturday, November 7th. He pretty much let the cat out of the bag with that suggestion!

  6. I wear a mask too. I know I probably don’t really need to, but I wear it for the same reason I carry a gun — in case I need it. It’s my body, so it’s my choice, right? Isn’t that how the refrain goes? Besides, being an old man, I have very little patience for being hassled by a self righteous 20-something, and I just might go old testament on his ass if he does. So it’s a win-win the way I see it — nobody gets hurt.

    David, I know you’re a Gator but brother, you’re barking up the wrong tree with GI. Cease fire.

    StL — if this hysteria gets any worse, we’ll play football alright. Some form of it, anyway. Probably soccer after we’re all sent to re-education camp! 🤐😁

  7. If I see any of you in public without a mask, I will come up to you, pull down my mask, sneeze and cough profusely into my hand, and then high five you while shouting Go Gators!!! If you go home and your family contracts Covid, don’t blame me. Just look in the mirror because you chose to exercise your freedom or maybe don’t like masks, or have some other lame excuse like it’s hard to breath wearing one. I’m being overly dramatic of course.