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 email@example.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.