Big 12’s Bob Bowlsby believes there will be fans in the stands, just far fewer

AUBURN, AL - NOVEMBER 23: An Auburn Tigers fan in the stands prior to their game against the Samford Bulldogs at Jordan-Hare Stadium on November 23, 2019 in Auburn, Alabama. (Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images)
AUBURN, AL - NOVEMBER 23: An Auburn Tigers fan in the stands prior to their game against the Samford Bulldogs at Jordan-Hare Stadium on November 23, 2019 in Auburn, Alabama. (Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images) /

Count Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby among those who are planning for and looking forward to seeing college football in the fall.

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But he is also quick to acknowledge that there are many things that have to happen between now and then to ensure the health and safety of all concerned because of what we know and still don’t know about COVID-19 and the threat for a recurrence in the fall.

While fans are not the major factor in whether or not there will be college football in the fall, the tradition and pageantry normally associated with the college game is certain to be much different because of precautionary measures put in place to limit coronavirus exposure.

In an interview aired this week on Sirius XM’s Big 12 Radio and reported in the Dallas Morning News, the Big 12 commissioner said he does expect to see some fans in the stands at college football games in the fall, although he’s not exactly sure what it will look like.

Oklahoma Sooners Football
Oklahoma Sooners Football /

Oklahoma Sooners Football

“It really depends on how things go between now and then,” Bowlsby said. “If it’s safe for the kids to be on the field in close contact with one another, why wouldn’t it be safe for fans to be in the stands at social distance.”

Some school officials are taking the planning approach that attendance could be limited to as few as 20 percent of capacity up to 50 percent, depending on the availability of widespread testing and what the conditions are with the COVID-19 outbreak in the fall months.

At OU’s Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium that could mean anywhere from 15,000 to 40,000 fans, positioned in accordance with social distancing guidelines.

Big 12 commish expects some fans to be present for football in the fall

While the Big 12 and other conferences are working on plans that would include a limited assembly of fans, it is highly probable that there will be no fans at games to begin the season, which for Oklahoma and other Big 12 teams is scheduled to kickoff the first weekend in September.

How to position and organize fan seating is the easiest part of the planning, Bowlsby said.

“Think about how difficult it is to do hospital-level disinfecting in a locker room or training room, (then) think about doing it for an entire stadium — the entry ways, the lines at the restrooms, the lines at the concession stands, the lines at the concession stands. It’s a very large undertaking.”

A month into the current coronavirus scare, Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione said we’ve got to avoid getting to the situation where we let “perfect become the enemy of good. We may not have a perfect solution. It might be fraught with a variety of imperfections,” he said.

Castiglione went on to acknowledge that we all know stadiums were not built for social distancing, and we are all trying to figure out how to go about adjusting for that eventuality.

There are lots of other things to consider if fans are allowed to attend games. Castiglione said that the athletic department has been in contact with national apparel manufacturers about game day items like masks and gloves.

And then there is food service to consider. What changes will be necessary there, given the “new normal” environment?

While there is widespread optimism there will be college football this fall and, at some point, there will be a concession to allow a much smaller number of fans to attend the games, most every health official and those associated at the highest levels of college football agree that we won’t see full-capacity attendance at college games until there is a safe and effective vaccine available and widely accessible.

I’m sure every Oklahoma football fan would be more than willing to forgo an actual seat at the Oklahoma Memorial Stadium for the chance to see the Sooners play football in the fall. TV and radio ratings for Sooner games are sure to be higher in 2020.