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Q&A: What to know and expect in college football’s second season of COVID

The pandemic isn’t over. Here’s what it all means for this college football season.
There shouldn't be any cutouts of fans this college football season, but it won't look exactly normal, either.
There shouldn't be any cutouts of fans this college football season, but it won't look exactly normal, either. [ PHELAN M. EBENHACK | AP (2020) ]
Published Aug. 31
Updated Aug. 31

College football’s second season of the coronavirus pandemic will look different than the first.

Stadiums will be full, or at least closer to full, than the eerily empty seats we saw last fall. Schedules are back to normal, and we’re unlikely to see any 11th-hour adjustments, like BYU and Coastal Carolina deciding to play on a few days’ notice.

Here’s a Q&A on what to expect from another season in the COVID-19 era:

Related: How the coronavirus pandemic has changed sports forever

Are there any attendance restrictions?

UCLA played in front of one of its smallest home crowds ever last week.
UCLA played in front of one of its smallest home crowds ever last week. [ ASHLEY LANDIS | AP ]

At least one school (Hawaii) will not have fans at its opening game because of the delta-triggered surge, but that decision is the exception, not the rule. Florida, Florida State and USF have not announced any COVID-related caps on the number of spectators.

Just because stadiums can be full again does not mean that they will be. Illinois’ opener last week against Nebraska drew an announced crowd of 41,064. That’s down from 44,512 when the Illini hosted the Cornhuskers in 2019, despite Illinois having some excitement with a new coach (Bret Bielema). UCLA’s Rose Bowl crowd of 32,982 was only slightly higher than the Bruins’ record-low, according to The Press-Enterprise. Are those Week 0 anomalies? Or are they signs that some fans still aren’t comfortable returning to a packed stadium?

Related: Gators’ Emory Jones ready to live up to hype from the pass that didn’t count

What happens if teams can’t play?

The SEC, ACC and AAC all have said they will not reschedule games, as they did last year during a fluid 2020 season. That means any team without enough available players will have to forfeit. If neither team is able to play in the ACC or SEC, both must forfeit.

Are vaccines or negative tests required for fans to attend?

Not at most places. Florida schools cannot require vaccines, but Gators athletic director Scott Stricklin recently acknowledged that UF could require fans to show proof of a negative test. The Gators are not doing so, and we’re not aware of any school in the state doing so, either.

Related: Gators can require negative COVID-19 test to attend games, governor’s office says

A few programs elsewhere, however, are requiring fans to show proof of a negative test or vaccine. That list includes LSU, Oregon, Oregon State and Boston College.

What about masks and other measures?

Masks are expected or recommended at FSU, UF and Raymond James Stadium. Some of the other measures, like hand-sanitizing stations, are staying, too.

Are vaccines required for players or coaches?

Washington State coach Nick Rolovich has drawn national attention over whether he will get the coronavirus vaccine.
Washington State coach Nick Rolovich has drawn national attention over whether he will get the coronavirus vaccine. [ TED S. WARREN | AP ]

Not at most places, including ones in Florida. FSU coach Mike Norvell said about 90 percent of his team has started to become fully vaccinated. The Gators are also at about 90 percent.

Some schools or states are requiring shots for students, employees or both. They include Ohio State, Wake Forest, Washington and Washington State. That has created drama similar to what’s happening in the rest of society.

Related: How the coronavirus pandemic has changed college football recruiting

A former four-star recruit, Peyton Powell, announced recently that he’s transferring from Rutgers because of its vaccine requirement.

Cougars coach Nick Rolovich could not attend the Pac-12′s media day this summer because he was unvaccinated; he has since said he’ll abide by his governor’s mandate that requires university employees to get the shot or receive a medical or religious exemption.

Are there any other coronavirus impacts?

Yes. Auburn coach Bryan Harsin tested positive during preseason camp and had to be away from his program. It’s a reminder that cases can still affect teams, just as they did last year.

Despite lifting many coronavirus restrictions, some in-person media access remains limited, especially for visiting teams. UF’s interviews were all conducted via Zoom this week.

Related: Five stories that will shape the next 25 years of USF football

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