By Michael Kinney
Before the first game was even played, Sondra Callaway had her reservations. Even though the Lawton native has been a season ticket holder to Oklahoma football game for nearly a decade, she had planned to sit out the 2020 season due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Because of Covid-19, my husband and I thought it was best to not attend,” Callaway said. “I don’t think there are enough precautions to keep everyone safe.”
Calloway’s worst fears played out in the Sooner’s season opener Sept. 12. Those who watched on Pay-Per-View TV saw the limited number of fans inside the stadium breaking all the rules and guidelines OU had put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19. With the game turning into a blowout, much of the talk on social media focused in on fans grouping together and not wearing masks.
The Sooners were not the only team to deal with this problem. Around the country, programs such as Florida State had the same reactions.
“We were disappointed with some fans, particularly some student fans, at the Georgia Tech football game who did not comply with our policies regarding social distancing and wearing masks while in their seats,” Florida State athletic director David Coburn said in a statement. ““There was ample room for all fans to remain safely distanced. We have three weeks until our next home game, and we will re-double our efforts to both inform our patrons and improve compliance with the new rules.”
Officials at Oklahoma decided they can’t have those images take place again if they want to have a full season. So heading into this weekend’s home game against Kansas State, the university announced even stricter policies geared toward preventing the spread of COVID-19.
According to OU officials, “the changes are the result of meetings amongst university officials and student leaders following the disappointing behaviors by some at the season’s first game.”
Several of the new measures are directly focused on the University of Oklahoma Students who were in attendance. They include students sitting in the assigned seats on their tickets and not moving around to different locations.
OU will also provide clearer concourse signs at the entry ramps for the student sections; establishment of student seating clusters in groups of 2 to 10; and clearly marked seats that are prohibited.
Oklahoma also plans to use more security personnel throughout the student section to provide direction, monitor locations and provide support. Staff will work with fans in an effort to achieve compliance with seating and masking requirements.
According to OU, anyone who does not abide by the policies may not only be removed from the game but also be banned from future contests.
If these new measures are not enough, Oklahoma says it is ready to make even stronger actions.
“Aside from the steps that are being implemented, the university is considering the possibility of a reduction or elimination of student tickets and seating,” according to a statement from OU. “Those steps have been tabled pending an evaluation of the new measures that will be implemented for the upcoming game.”
Currently, Oklahoma is allowing only 20,000 fans (25 percent capacity) into its home games. That includes students, who had to get their season tickets through a lottery process.
The new measures come the same week that OU athletic program released its newest COVID-19 testing results. Out of the 760 student-athletes and staff members tested, eight came back positive.
However, the Sooners did not say which sport the positive tests came from or how many were actually athletes. This falls in line with OU coach Lincoln Riley’s stance or not giving out the COVID-19 results on his team in order to keep a competitive advantage.
“I think we’re to the point now where we’re playing games and obviously any active case or contact trace is going to have game repercussions,” Riley said. “So, just like we would with an injury, we made the decision to not broadcast that. I know we’ve been probably the most transparent school in the country up until then, but you don’t want to give your team a competitive disadvantage, so we’re not going to do that.”
Despite this, Oklahoma still has a long list of fans waiting to be selected to attend a game if someone backs out due to fears of COVID-19.
That list does not include Matt Kimber, who has had six season tickets (currently $450 each) since 1989. They chose to get a total refund this year and do not plan to re-enroll any time soon.
“We won’t be attending the games this year,” Kimber said. “I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing it because of COVID-19.”
Story by Michael Kinney Media