Goodbye FSU. Farewell “the wave.” Games in the Swamp will look, feel and sound different. But a weird Gator game beats none at all.
It’s about to get weird.
Now that we know the template for the SEC football season – our palates still craving the main course of the complete schedule – we can’t help but wonder just how strange stadiums will be around the country.
Of course, the one we really care about is expected to be just as weird as the rest of them.
As a high-ranking SEC official told me the other day, “Fans in the SEC need to understand that it’s going to be a totally different experience.”
How different? Well, as we know, the virus is in charge of the timeline. All around the conference, administrators and athletic department employees have been brainstorming and Zooming their tails off trying to come up with plans for everything involving the game day experience. Even though they realize it could all change in five minutes.
I can give you a run-through of how different it will look at The Swamp, just don’t hold me to it.
The only thing I know for sure is that Florida will not play Florida State this year. Man, you hate to pass up those easy victories, but the conference made its decision.
When it comes to the number of people who will be allowed to attend Florida’s opener Sept. 26 against a team to be named later, it could be anywhere from zero to 44,000.
There is a chance that the state of Florida could ban fans from attending games (unlikely) and certainly there will be SEC guidelines eventually announced. If it is determined that everyone will be 100 percent socially distanced, Florida could put 15,000 in the stands.
Remember that this includes the suites, which will be open but rarely make noise. That’s going to be another interesting story for the people who own the suites. Do they get everyone in their party tested before allowing them in?
If Florida is allowed 50% capacity, we’re looking at about 44,000 fans.
Chip Howard, the executive athletic director who is at the forefront of stadium planning, said UF was going to paperless tickets next year anyway, so the virus just sped it up to 2020.
So imagine walking up to the gates after no tailgating (almost certainly to be banned on campus early in the season if not the entire season), following the signs about where to go and where to stand and having a mask on. It’ll be like going to Publix.
There’s a really good chance you will have to wear that mask during the entire game as well. Georgia, as an example, has already declared masks mandatory for Bulldog games and the SEC is expected to do the same. Violators will be treated the same way as belligerent fans. See ya.
You’re hungry and thirsty? You will order by phone and pick it up Grab-and-Go style at the concession stand. Which may lead to a trip to the bathroom and you had better follow instructions. Florida will have bathroom monitors who will enforce social distancing (two days detention?) and the acceptable urinals and stalls will be spaced out for use.
One thing you definitely will not have to hear inside the stadium is the opposing band. Very limited tickets will be available for the opposition and even the home teams – including Florida – are weighing the decision of whether to allow its own band in the stands. Trombones and tubas lead to a lot of spittle.
On the field, the NCAA has expanded the width of the sidelines, so you could see players so spread out a coach can’t find them. Only one captain will be permitted to go out for the coin toss.
Cheerleaders? Still not sure if there will be room made for them.
So, are you ready for some football?
Obviously, we won’t have those ceremonies on the field that honor teams from other sports or big money boosters. The Mr. Two Bits routine may be done virtually or shelved for a year.
Hopefully, this will be the end of the wave.
It’s going to be weird. And ever-evolving, as we see how everyone handles it all, including the players. Heck, we may see it end up like baseball with cardboard cutouts in the stands instead of fans.
Just remember that no matter how inconvenient or strange or surreal it gets, it still beats the alternative: no football. As I have nothing left to binge watch.