College football and its crowd traditions have regained all their glory as in 2019, before Covid-19 restrictions severely limited fan attendance in 2020.
Some of the nation’s biggest powers – including Georgia, Alabama, Ohio State and Oklahoma, to name a few – are hosting games at full capacity on Saturday. And fans who attend these games won’t have to prove their vaccine status, won’t be required to socially distance themselves, and won’t have to wear masks in their seats.
The return of college football and its unique cultures, which began in earnest last week, is a source of common bonds for sports fans, but it is also a source of anxiety for others.
The University of Georgia football team, now ranked No.2 in the country, will play their first home game on Saturday at the 92,746-seat Sanford Stadium in Athens against the University of Alabama-Birmingham.
Last year’s home games were played with around 20-25% capacity, but there are no such limits for this year’s home games. The university system has also not mandated vaccines for students, and the state is one of the least vaccinated in the country – issues that have added concerns to high-risk community members.
“The football season that is falling on us is a cause of great terror,” said Usree Bhattacharya, UGA assistant professor in the Department of Language Education and Literacy, whose 5-year-old daughter has a problem of rare health.
In an interview with CNN, she began to cry as she called on Georgia’s university system to demand masks and vaccines to better protect people like her daughter, who wears a mask when others are not required to.
“I don’t understand why we ask little children to take on responsibilities that adults are not in our community,” she said.
The two sides of the return to sport
The SEC and NCAA left schools to make their own decisions – based on local and state requirements – when asked what each is doing to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 during football games. Both have Covid-19 protocols for student-athletes.
“My request to our fans is to try to take advantage of what science has done,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said last month.
Last week marked the full opening of the college football season, and stadiums across the country were filled with fans eager to join the common sporting experience.
These schools do little to innovate by organizing crowded games. The National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball have also been hosting full capacity events this summer, and the National Football League will do so when the season begins later this week.
No mandate for vaccines or masks at the UGA
The system followed the general policy put forward by Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, who resisted the imposition of vaccines or the use of masks.
Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on Tuesday he didn’t think it was “smart” to attend a crowded sporting event.
“The outdoors is always better than the indoors, but even when you have such a close-knit gathering setting you need to be vaccinated first, and when you have gathering settings, especially at the indoors, you should wear a mask, ”he said. .
He encouraged people to get vaccinated and said he expects more local communities to mandate vaccines.
“There are going to be sporting events, travel events, where the rule will be if you want to participate, you get vaccinated,” Fauci said. “Otherwise, sorry, you won’t be able to do it. And I think when we have more and more of them, I think we will start to see a big decrease in the number of cases.”
CNN’s Kevin Dotson, Virginia Langmaid and Amir Vera contributed to this report.