With cases of the novel coronavirus rising in the South and West, some governors hope that the threat of a canceled college football season will encourage their residents to follow public health guidelines, such as wearing masks in public.
Most teams begin the season Sept. 5, and many players returned to campus for voluntary workouts last month. But the number cases in the United States has continued to rise through the last two weeks, with the country reporting 52,789 new coronavirus cases Wednesday, the largest single-day total since the start of the pandemic.
In South Carolina, one of the states where cases are spiking, Gov. Henry McMaster, R, said Wednesday he will not lift the executive order that bans large gatherings, such as spectator sports and concerts, until the situation improves.
“If these numbers continue to rise, if we continue to see this kind of danger going across our state, I will have no choice – we will have no choice – but to keep these restrictions on crowds and gatherings in place,” McMaster said. “And that means this fall will not be like other falls. We will not be able to have college football. We will not be able to have high school football.”
Through late May, South Carolina had yet to report more than 300 new cases in a day, but the state has had more than 1,000 new cases per day for more than a week, including a single-day record of 1,853 on Tuesday. McMaster has not issued a statewide mask mandate but encouraged local jurisdictions to enforce guidelines as they see fit.
“Let me make it very clear: Wear a mask and social distance now so we can enjoy high school and college football in South Carolina this fall,” McMaster tweeted after his news conference Wednesday.
Clemson announced 37 football players have tested positive for the coronavirus, but the program continues to hold voluntary workouts.
Georgia, one of the first states to begin reopening, reported a single-day record of 2,946 new cases on Wednesday. If cases keep rising in Georgia and residents do not wear masks, Gov. Brian Kemp, R, said holding a college football season this year would be difficult.
“If you’re ready for some football in the fall, as I’ve told my daughters, they keep asking me, ‘Dad, do you think we’re going to have college football? Surely we’ve got to have the season,'” Kemp said Wednesday, according to the Athens Banner-Herald. “I said, ‘Well, if people, especially our young people, don’t start wearing a mask when they’re going out in public and our numbers keep rising, that’s going to be a tall task.'”
After staying home and following health guidelines for months, Georgians and others across the country “got lackadaisical a little bit,” Kemp said, adding that “now is the time to renew our commitment.”
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, R, held a football in one hand and a mask in the other during his Wednesday briefing at the state Capitol.
“If we want football, high school football, high school sports this year and, beyond that, in college, we need to concentrate on this mask now,” Hutchinson said. “There’s a connection between the two. We wear our masks, we reduce the cases, we reduce the growth, we stop the spread of the virus. And that puts us in a better position to have some type of team sports this fall.”
The NCAA’s Division I Council approved a practice plan for college football that starts July 13 for most teams. Beginning that week, athletes may be required to participate in team activities, whereas programs currently are allowed to hold only voluntary workouts.
College football coaches have appeared in public service announcements throughout the pandemic, stressing the importance of following health guidelines and wearing masks. But lately, as cases rise and the season approaches, even more coaches and athletic department leaders have urged fans to wear masks.