Momentum for an on-time start to the college football season has accelerated dramatically as Pac-12 presidents make plans to reopen the campuses, athletic directors receive encouraging projections about the availability of coronavirus testing and health officials gain a deeper understanding of infection and transmission trends.
So optimistic is the current outlook that discussions include the potential for spectators.
Just last week, Arizona athletic director Dave Heeke noted the “trend toward a limited-fan-engagement model” and Oregon State’s Scott Barnes revealed a scenario with 14,000-16,000 season-ticket holders in the stadium.
And that got us thinking here at the Hotline (which is either good or bad news): Shouldn’t Pac-12 athletic departments make plans for a dry run? Why not test those “limited-fan-engagement” models in advance?
After all, game day will be an unprecedented experience if fans are allowed inside.
- Traffic flows and parking lots will be reconfigured.
- Chunks of seats will be blocked off throughout the stadium.
- There may not be concessions.
- Social distancing will be imperative in restrooms.
- Masks will be required.
- Alcohol could be prohibited.
- Hand-sanitizing stations will be ubiquitous.
- Expect a timed entry process based on ticket location or last name, in addition to temperature and/or mask checks at security.
- The departure process could involve timed exits and predetermined routes.
Even the teams will have a new normal, down to the smallest detail.
It will be an epic undertaking, with loads of untested procedures and protocols. So why not play it out in real time, ahead of time?
If the optimism continues into late June, the schools should plan for intrasquad exhibitions, with fans, in the middle of August.
Split the team in half, treat it exactly like game day in the new normal, and invite a few thousand spectators.
If schools expect 15,000-20,000 in the stands for the home openers, invite 2,500 to the exhibition.
That would allow the operations staff to test procedures and protocols with a multiweek cushion available to make changes and solve problems that arise.
It would also allow the teams to run through their game-week plan, with all the health and safety precautions that will be in place in the days before the season opener.
In fact, schools should consider going next-level and planting problems in the stadium:
Assign someone to act like a belligerent drunk who won’t wear a mask, to test your ushers and security staff and gauge how other fans will react.
Instruct a collection of ticket holders to disobey entry protocols and descend on the wrong entry gate at the wrong time.
And toss a few curveballs at the coaching staff — to the point, perhaps, that you fake a positive test as a means of forcing the contact tracing officials quarantine procedures into action.
Make everything as real as possible. Force as much troubleshooting as possible.
Arizona and UCLA are scheduled to open early, on Aug. 29, so their formal scrimmages probably should be slotted for the 15th.
Everyone else starts Sept. 3-5, so they could open the gates on the 22nd.
As far as we know, there is no NCAA rule prohibiting August exhibitions, no matter the level of formality, so long as it’s an intrasquad event.
Teams spend long hours in training camp preparing for every situation that could arise on the field on game day, from Hail Marys to onside kicks.
Why not devote a single Saturday to making sure the schools are prepared for game day itself.