The biggest draw of a SEC school is arguably its football program. Going to a school down south means much more than just going to an academic institution. The atmosphere on gamedays, the national obsession with SEC football and fierce loyalty from the fans is unmatched compared to other conferences.
As a freshman last year, I practically counted down the days until kickoff in Neyland. However, times have changed and not necessarily for the better. With COVID-19 putting the world in a situation incomparable to anything anyone has ever experienced, we must be more diligent in our quest to contain the spread of this virus. I know the fanbase would be highly disappointed, but I just do not think it is in the best interest of our community to continue with the football season.
Let’s begin with how the university is attempting to run these games and allow fans into the stands. Tennessee has given precedence to students and donors, as they rightfully should with UTsports.com clearly stating, “current UT students and active Tennessee Fund donors with season tickets will receive priority on 2020 football tickets.” However, my problem with this plan is that allowing people from outside the campus bubble that UT has tried to create and contain us in is contradicting every protocol they have set in place.
I understand the importance of keeping the donors happy and allowing them to come to games being played by a program they have helped support with their money, but I do not think it is worth the risk of spreading the virus on a campus that the majority of students have tried so hard to keep safe. Even with limited capacity, Neyland Stadium is still one of the biggest stadiums.
Our student-athletes are also at the greatest risk for not only contracting but also for spreading the virus around campus as well. The SEC and other conferences have taken measures such as cancelling out of conference games. However, teams are still having to travel out of state and being placed in contact with other people, so I am not sure if reducing the season to in-conference games does anything to help limit the spread.
In a game as physical as football, it is virtually impossible to act like our football players will be able to social distance or that they won’t be swapping sweat with players from the other team. Some of you may think that COVID19 would have no effect on a young person in as good of shape as a D-1 football player, but USA Today says, “concerns about myocarditis became a widespread concern for athletes recovering from COVID19.” Despite not being in the most vulnerable group, the health and safety of our athletes should not be overlooked.
The students and decision makers at individual universities have to be held accountable for their role in stopping the spread too. It was reported that the SMU student section was kicked from the team’s game versus Memphis for failing to adhere to the school’s social distancing and COVID guidelines.
In another report from the same USA Today article it stated, “LSU even said it would no longer require a medical wellness check to enter the stadium.” We would like to think that young people would understand the importance of following all the guidelines set in place by their institution, but it is not realistic to expect a bunch of 18 to 20-something year-olds to want to spread out and wear a mask. Additionally, if the university in question does not even seem willing to enforce the guidelines they have set in place to keep everyone safe what should make students follow in suit.
If schools like LSU stop health screening and schools like Tennessee allow visitors to come into the bubble they have tried to create for students, the plans for a safe football season seem redundant.
I am sure there is not anyone that would be happy to see an early end to football on Rocky Top this fall, but I believe that there is no safe way to continue a football season in our current climate. This virus is too easily spreadable and puts too much of our community at risk to try and continue the season.
Marjorie Moore is a Sophomore majoring in Economics. She can be reached at email@example.com
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