-Tommy Foltz and Evin Demirel
Arkansas’ updated 2020 schedule ends in December with Alabama. It’ll be a “reward” if we can even get that far into the season to play them, given recent trends in Tuscaloosa. Alabama officials announced a positivity rate of less than 1 percent among tested during the reentry process, but now that school has reopened things are going the wrong direction.
One part of their campus recently saw a 29 percent COVID-19 positive rate among students.
It’s going to be a long, bumpy road for Arkansas to get to Alabama.
Despite receiver Mike Woods’ optimism, the whole schedule is a meat grinder.
Still, as much as the SEC bent over backwards to give us a terrible schedule, I guess we should be happy that we even have a potential for college football in 2020. And for the shadow of a semblance of an actual game-day atmosphere.
Arkansas fans will be required to socially distance themselves, which will not be hard to do because they’re only letting 17,000 people in a stadium that holds about 75,000. That’s less than 20% capacity. But, it makes some sense.
The athletic department also announced fans will also be required to wear face masks from the minute they walk into the stadium until they leave. This also makes some sense. Both of these requirements follow in-line with general requirements to go into a grocery store, Academy Sports or anywhere else except restaurants. They require you to wear a mask as you walk in the door and out the door, but at no other time.
SENSELESS SIGHTS AND SOUNDS:
When the band comes onto the field for pre-game and at halftime, the announcer always comes on the loud speaker and talks about the Hog band being the best in “sight and sound” anywhere, or something like that. Not this year.
Cheerleaders will be allowed on the sidelines where there is a whole football team that “might” be infected with the virus. However, they will not be allowed on the field, which is typically when the players are on the sidelines and further away from the cheerleaders.
The band gets a little more leeway. They will be allowed to perform “briefly” before the game and “briefly” during halftime.
This should actually receive an F-, but the temptation to use the letter “A” was too much given the subject matter.
Players will NOT run through the A!!! This is a mistake. Every kid in Arkansas, including myself, dreamed of running through that A. How vulnerable can the players, or band members, be simply because they ran by someone for a brief second in an outdoor venue?
This is like missing the trailers at the movie theater, or even opening kick-off. Are we going to sing the national anthem, or is that too dangerous too when you’re six feet away wearing a mask?
Speaking of open air venues, there’s nothing more open air than tailgating. Not allowed.
Before Jerry Garcia died, I went to a lot of Grateful Dead shows. More than a few people asked me what was so special about a Grateful Dead show. Inevitably, my first answer was “If you don’t already get it, I can’t explain it to you.” Then, I would add: “Only half of the reason to go to a Dead show happens inside the stadium.”
For some people, the activity of tailgating before a game is as much a part of the experience as a rod and reel are to a fishing trip. It’s like forgetting your gun on a hunting trip. It’s like getting to the field, but leaving the ball at home.
It’s one major reason people travel across the state to go to games. It’s not JUST about the football. It’s about the entire experience. It’s about seeing old friends from around the state, people watching, eating out of your own car and excitement building in the air.
Florida State gets it. The Seminoles will open the season allowing tailgating in Tallahassee. Granted, the concept of “socially distanced” tailgating may be an experiment destined for the scrap heap, but at least they’re giving it a shot.
And it’s certainly worth a shot.
HERE’S THE DEAL:
These restrictions will turn into a bonanza on Dickson Street. People will be crammed into bars who have no physical ability to create social distance and their masks will be in their pockets and purses, despite the state’s mask mandate and the fact Fayetteville was the first to institute such a mandate.
This is the South. Folks are gonna congregate when there’s football to be played. Just look at this footage from Alabama:
Do you really think Arkansas will be that different?
Expect whatever network that covers the game to set up JJ’s or Farrell’s to get footage of live crowd reaction from rowdy people there instead of from the spaced-out fans in the stadium.
But, let’s not forget the thousands of fans who stay home in Little Rock, Conway, Jonesboro or wherever else because they won’t be able to get the full game experience. The grocery stores in those towns will make out like bandits with all the watch parties that will go down.
Places like Corky’s (owned by Joe Kleine), Whole Hog Cafe and multiple other BBQ joints will be slammed all morning getting ribs and pulled pork sandwiches ready for customers to pick up before kick off.
So, there are some winners emerging from this scenario, but it won’t be the fans who would rather be at the game, or the players who (now, more than ever) need the energy those fans provide. We’re more likely to see a real game-day experience on Dickson Street than in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.