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UNC Football: The Heels plan to have limited seating at games, but is it going to be safe?

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As schools try to salvage as much of the game day atmosphere as they can, COVID-19 continues to lash out across the country.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 20 Wofford at North Carolina Photo by Andy Mead/YCJ/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The sports world finally started to gain some traction and get things opened back up over the past couple of weeks. Most notably MLB had their opening day last week and hosted games all this past weekend. The NBA has also started hosting games in Orlando, and currently no players in the bubble have tested positive for COVID-19.

Where does all of this news leave college sports? Simply put, there is still a big large question mark hanging over the NCAA and all of their member schools.

Yesterday the AD for Carolina athletics Bubba Cunningham released a statement in regards to their plans for season ticket holders for the 2020 Carolina football season. To save time, I will share the meat of what was said, but you can view the entire statement released here.

“We continue to plan for football to be played this season. Working with that key assumption, we want to make you aware of some information that will be shared in more detail in the coming days and weeks.

Kenan Stadium fan capacity will be reduced. Data and trends regarding the Covid-19 pandemic continue to provide moving targets for decisions, but reduced fan capacity in Kenan Stadium will be a necessity. We are planning for multiple scenarios and will continue to work with University and state officials as well as health experts to determine the appropriate level of capacity, which may vary throughout the season. The decision will affect how we handle tickets.

Reduced capacity means that ticket availability and seat locations will be changed for fans to accommodate physical distancing. For this reason, Carolina Athletics will NOT distribute tickets in a season ticket format for this season. We are developing a process to offer tickets for individual games (see below). Fans who have ordered season tickets will receive a communication from the Carolina Ticket Office with more information about their ticket order in the very near future. No action needs to be taken at this time.”

The announcement from the school that the school was not releasing season tickets was to be expected with the current state of the pandemic. However, the most notable part of Cunningham’s statement wasn’t about the season tickets, but was about individual tickets.

To this point it was an unspoken assumption that the NCAA, and on a more micro scale the ACC, would only reboot the season if there were empty seats in the stands. This is because of the varying capacity restrictions from state to state, with some states having more restrictions than other states. What we learned from Cunningham is that as of right now, at least as far as UNC is concerned, is that the school is going to try to fill what few seats they are able to fill based on whichever guidelines Governor Roy Cooper has in place by the time football season starts. If the Heels have a plan to attempt this, it’s almost certain that all of the other ACC schools likely have plans in place to host a limited amount of fans as well. It’s hard to get a handle on how good or bad of an idea this is, and there are a few reasons why that is the case.

One of the things to keep in mind with this virus is that space is key. If a football stadium isn’t allowed to be completely full, there should in theory be enough room to space out seating in accordance to the social distancing guidelines. The other part of this is that football games take place outside, and being outdoors makes it a bit harder for the virus to latch onto another host assuming people aren’t in massive crowds without masks. Lastly, if fans are required to wear masks, then the chance that anybody can infect anybody drops dramatically.

So then what would be the problem keeping them from having fans at all? The simple answer: this country has struggled mightily in its handling of the virus and it’s hard to figure out what can and can’t take place safely when it comes to sports. MLB so far isn’t doing a great job of proving that having even traveling outdoor sports are a great idea (notice the keyword “traveling” in that statement, we will get back to that). Just yesterday the Miami Marlins announced that at least 14 players tested positive for the virus, and when given the option of whether or not to play against the Philadelphia Phillies the team decided to play as usual. The league has no strong guidelines in handling these situations, and now MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has some tough decisions to make over the next few days about what needs to change, or how to proceed at all.

However, if you want an example of something that is working so far, the NBA bubble experiment has been working well. Players are currently isolated from outside contact so that they cannot contract the virus from the public, and very specific protocols are in place for when a player does have to travel outside of the bubble. This method to a degree is what is happening on college campuses, but teams will still have to travel to play other teams, making the situation a lot riskier.

In short, UNC planning to have fans this football season could or could not be a safe move, and really it’s all dependent on where we are with everything by the time September hits. Nothing is set in stone by any means, so anything that Cunningham mentioned in his statement is merely a plan in the school’s back pocket. At best they can proceed having a limited number of fans in Kenan Stadium, and at worst the football team may not play at all. I personally am an advocate for no fans at all, but schools are already going to lose a significant amount of money by not being able to function like normal, so the desire to have a limited amount of fans is an understandable one. I mean hey, maybe everyone will wear masks / stay home when needed over the next four weeks and everything will be just fine?

Am I right? Guys? Is anybody out there?