The Georgia Bulldogs kicked off their football season on Sep. 26 at Arkansas, where they defeated the Razorbacks 37-10. They’ll face Auburn in Athens on Oct. 3, followed by Tennessee on Oct. 10.
While the University of Georgia Athletic Association adjusted seats to support physical distancing at around a fifth of capacity, much more has to be done to ensure that the football season can proceed without risk of a COVID-19 outbreak. There should be no fans in the stands whatsoever, and on-campus tailgating of any kind should be disallowed.
Even at lower capacity, there are too many opportunities for fans to infect each other to make having them in the stands worthwhile. They’ll be clustering at the gates, in concourses, at concession stands, in bathrooms and outside the stadium. Security guards and other staff members will be exposed to thousands of fans.
And of course, we should not expect fans to perfectly follow every COVID-19 guideline, especially not if they’re inebriated. Will fans really keep their masks on at all times and maintain physical distancing? It’s too risky to consider bringing fans to Sanford Stadium, especially not those from outside Athens, who could bring the coronavirus to the city or bring it back to their families and friends.
These problems are compounded when fans are allowed to congregate outside of the stadium. While UGAAA has banned tailgates on campus this season, fans will be allowed to “gather in parking lots” up to three hours before kickoff. This is effectively allowing tailgating.
Additionally, the university cannot regulate what happens off campus. In addition to disallowing tailgates (or tailgates by another name) on campus, the university should disincentivize off-campus tailgates by barring fans from the stadium.
These suggestions do not come without significant trade-offs. A significant amount of money depends on selling tickets and bringing fans to Athens.
Perhaps, if the state of Georgia and the federal government took more active measures to stop the pandemic back when the outbreak first began, this discussion wouldn’t have to happen. More than 200,000 Americans could still be alive, and fans could potentially get together to watch Georgia football like any other year, more or less.
Ultimately, the university should make the decisions that best protect fans, students, staff and Athenians. Fans should not be allowed in the stands at Georgia home football games, and tailgates of any kind should not be permitted on campus. Any other course of action would be deeply irresponsible.