What the upcoming season will look like amid the COVID-19 pandemic is still anybody’s guess.
At some point in the near future, however, decisions will need to be made one way or another.
Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne, speaking during a virtual town hall to ticket-holders and donors on Thursday night, said he thinks any changes to the 2020 season will need to be made by early July.
“I think when we get into late June and the first week of July, we’re gonna have to make some decisions,” Byrne said, via AL.com. “Coach Saban and I have had a number of discussions about it: What do we need for the safety of our kids to be able to come back and be ready, be football ready at the SEC level?
“That’s four at the very minimum but very likely six weeks of preparation to get ready. And so how you pull that all together when that comes to mid-July to late-July, we’re gonna have some decisions made on what that looks like.”
Masks at Alabama games
Byrne’s timeline makes sense, given that most teams start training camps in early August for a season-opener in the first weekend of September. Announcing any changes to the season later than the first week in July could create some serious logistical issues for programs around the country.
While Week 1 of the season is four months away, the coronavirus pandemic is still raging. There were more than 1.2 million confirmed cases in the United States as of Thursday night, according to The New York Times, and more than 75,000 deaths attributed to the virus. There isn’t a vaccine yet, one isn’t expected until some point next year, and testing still isn’t readily available.
Many universities are still debating about when they will allow students — including athletes — to return to campuses amid the outbreak. Some states, like Oregon and California, have already said that large gatherings of people aren’t likely to be allowed anytime soon, either.
Byrne said he is looking at different social distancing options for games this fall, and that the university is planning on starting the season on time at this point. He even suggested that fans could wear masks at games as part of the solution, and used a photo from a game at Georgia Tech in 1918 during the Spanish flu pandemic as inspiration.
"In this picture, the stands look very full and everybody has a mask on,” Byrne said, via AL.com. "So the medical experts that I’ve been talking to, one of the things they’ve said — early on, I was trying to understand this and say, ‘OK, I’m reading everywhere that the mask doesn’t really protect you, it protects the people you come in contact with.’ I said, ‘What if both people are wearing masks? Doesn’t it protect you both ways?’ And they said, ‘Well, yeah.’
"And so this weekend I was doing some research and reading, and basically if you both are wearing masks, it reduces the transmission of viruses by like 99 percent. Now that can’t be the only solution, I understand that. So please don’t walk away thinking, ‘Oh, that’s what we’re going to do. Everything is gonna be fine.’
"But what I think how we’re gonna find a landing spot that hopefully can work well for the University of Alabama and the health and wellness of our student-athletes and fans is find something that is multiple steps to give us a chance to have a fall sports season where people can come and be a part of it.”
Like the clear bag policy
Byrne compared potential game day stadium changes to when stadiums started implementing a “clear bag” policy — which is now common practice at events across the country.
Though the two situations are extremely different — one restricts someone from bringing a bag into a stadium, while the other involves a deadly, highly-contagious virus — he believes fans can adapt easily to whatever changes are necessary.
“If I would have said to [my wife] Regina seven years ago, ‘Reg, you can’t bring a purse to a game anymore,’ she would have looked at me like I had three eyes,” Byrne said, via AL.com. "Now nobody blinks an eye. Everybody carries a clear bag to the game. That’s what happens now.
“Our best possible opportunity to have a full fall sports season is we may have to make adjustments to what we do and how we approach our game day. And that’s what it takes to have a successful fall sports season for our teams, our student-athletes, our university, our community — all those things.”
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