College Football Post-Pandemic: What Will Change?

Here’s usually where a writer would fill their audience in on the topic of the article; they would explain what the COVID-19 pandemic is, when it began, how it affected college football. But you’ve lived it, you know. Potentially you’ve seen it rear its ugly head more than I have.

Since the cursed 2020 football season began on all levels, I’ve been to just two games– North Texas’ season opener against Houston Baptist and a Southlake Carroll High School football game. I sat far away from others and I wore my mask.

I also paid attention. This is uncharted territory for everyone, including all 32 pro teams, all 130 FBS teams, and the hundreds upon hundreds of others. The interesting thing about this season is that there’s no blueprint and every program is going to do things a little bit differently.

Short-Term Implications

2020 isn’t the only season that will be affected by slashed attendance. Next year, the year after, maybe even years down the line, don’t expect to see too many over-capacity stadiums. Should a majority of Americans be vaccinated by next August and should the coast be called clear, there’s going to be a significant level of lasting social anxiety. Fans won’t just flock back to the stands by the hundreds of thousands, it’s going to take time.

College football already had an attendance issue. 2019 saw attendance numbers dip to 20+ year lows and the discussion to reverse that were already well underway. The pandemic set this back quite a bit, and programs will be feeling the impact for a couple more years to come.

Along the same lines as social anxiety, mask wearing will likely continue at football games, although don’t expect it to be mandatory. It’ll likely come in personal doses and maybe phase out with time, but mask wearing at large social gatherings (games, concerts) might just become a new societal norm. Agree with it or don’t, it’s just the reality.

Ticket prices have been the most unexpected aspect (personally) to the modified season. Unlike the other two implications, this one will reverse, not continue. Expect future ticket prices to plummet, especially in the early 2021 season. Departments will drop their prices to combat the losses from 2020 and the imminent low attendance numbers. So, get ready college football fans, 2021 could be a busy year.

Long-Term Implications

This one hurts, but say goodbye to physical tickets. I love collecting stubs from the games I’ve been to, regardless of sport, but they’ve been on the chopping block for years now. COVID-19 protocols and procedures have finally axed the paper system at places like Nebraska and LSU, with most (if not all) of college football following suit. This will likely take effect immediately, but last forever.

With their backs pressed against a wall, administration from the high school level to the NFL had to get creative to generate revenue this season. A major solution has been increased sponsorship– around the bottom rows of stands, above the locker room entrance, on the field. Next game you watch on TV (it’s more noticeable in the NFL), check out how many more company logos you see. It doesn’t affect the fan experience, but it’s here to stay.

This one will affect fans– some in a major way. The extremely unfortunate lasting effect of the modified season was (and will continue to be) the discontinuation of programs. So far, only Jacksonville University (FCS) has cut their football program, but over 80 Division-I teams have been cut from athletic departments across all sports. It sucks for fans, for families, but most of all for student athletes and staff. Some programs are lucky and saved by private donors, but most are not so lucky.

And, of course, there’s the long-term complications of the virus that’s been highlighted by experts. From a fan experience, this won’t cause much anxiety, but it has– and will continue to– sideline student athletes permanently.

Not everything is doom and gloom and not every lasting impact from COVID-19 is bad. Moving forward, fans can expect increased efficiency, a decreased paper trail, and a more fan-friendly game day.

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