College football and its crowd traditions are back to their full glory like they were in 2019, before Covid-19 restrictions sharply limited fan attendance in 2020.
Some of the country’s biggest powerhouses — including Georgia, Alabama, Ohio State and Oklahoma, to name a few — are hosting games to full capacity on Saturday. And fans who attend these games won’t have to prove their vaccination status, won’t be required to social distance 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, are a source of communal bonding for sports fans, yet they also represent a source of anxiety for others.
The University of Georgia football team, now ranked No. 2 in the country, is set to play its first home game Saturday at the 92,746-seat Sanford Stadium in Athens against University of Alabama-Birmingham.
Last year’s home games were held with about 20-25% capacity, but there are no such limits on this year’s home games. The university system has also not required vaccines for students and the state is one of the least vaccinated in the country — issues that have added concerns for high-risk community members.
“The football season descending upon us is a cause for a great deal of terror,” said Usree Bhattacharya, a UGA assistant professor in the Department of Language and Literacy Education, whose 5-year-old daughter has a rare health issue.
In an interview with CNN, she began to cry as she called on the University System of Georgia to mandate masks and vaccines to better protect people like her daughter, who wears a mask while others are not required to.
“I don’t understand why little kids are being asked to take on responsibilities that adults are not in our community,” she said.
The two sides of the return of sports
Both the SEC and NCAA deferred to schools to make their own decisions — based on local and state requirements — when asked what each was doing to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 at football games. Both do have Covid-19 protocols for student-athletes.
“My ask of our fans is to try to take advantage of what science has done,” Greg Sankey, SEC commissioner, said last month.
Last week marked the full opening of the college football season, and stadiums across the country were packed with fans eager to rejoin the communal sports experience.
These schools are hardly breaking new ground by holding packed games. The National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball have similarly held full capacity events this summer, and the National Football League will do so when the season begins later this week.
No vaccine or mask mandates at UGA
The system has followed the general policy put forth by Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, who has resisted mandating vaccines or mask usage.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Tuesday he didn’t think it’s “smart” to attend a crowded sports event.
“Outdoors is always better than indoors, but even when you have such a congregant setting of people close together, first, you should be vaccinated, and when you do have congregant settings, particularly indoors, you should be wearing a mask,” he said.
He encouraged people to get vaccinated and said he expects more local communities will mandate vaccines.
“There are going to be sports events, travel events, where the rule is going to be if you want to participate, you get vaccinated,” Fauci said. “If not, sorry, you’re not going to be able to do it. And I think when we get more and more of that, I think we’re going to start seeing a great diminution in the number of cases.”
CNN’s Kevin Dotson, Virginia Langmaid and Amir Vera contributed to this report.
— to www.cnn.com