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College football COVID-19 rules to be tested this weekend

LSU Tiger Stadium

A wide array of college football COVID-19 rules will be tested this weekend, as stadiums will be imposing different mitigation rules as the season fully launches.

The stadium rules governing COVID-19 mitigation vary widely, as local athletic departments are following local guidance at a minimum. At last night’s Ohio State-Minnesota game at Huntington Bank Stadium, the Golden Gophers required face masks in indoor areas, including suites, while recommending their usage in the stands as well. This requirement meets the University of Minnesota mask guidelines, which requires their usage in indoor spaces.

On the other end of the spectrum: LSU is requiring all fans at Tiger Stadium guests 12 years of age and older to provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within 72 hours prior to entry.

“As the flagship institution of the state of Louisiana, our foremost responsibility is to ensure the safety of our students, our supporters, and our community,” LSU President William F. Tate IV said in a press release. “While we are aware of the diverse perspectives across the nation regarding masks and vaccinations, we must take all reasonable measures to protect our campus and community, not only on gamedays, but long after guests have left Tiger Stadium. The current threat to our lives, our health, and to our medical systems due to COVID-19 is overburdening our hospitals, and we must do our part to stop the spread.”

What LSU is doing is rare when it comes to college football COVID-19 rules, though a few major programs, such as Oregon State, Oregon and Boston College, have adopted a similar vaccination requirement. (Across the venue world, vaccination requirements are more common: Live Nation will be requiring proof in their venues, while teams like the New Orleans Saints are requiring them as well.) And many universities do require masks usage in all indoor spaces, so fans at colleges requiring masks in all indoor spaces will see that practice extended to campus facilities. Again, many of these rules follow or exceed state and local mandates.

Unless you’re at a Florida university, where the state has banned mask mandates of all sorts. That means the fans crammed into the Univerisity of Florida’s Swamp–operating at full capacity for the first time since 2019–will not be required to wear masks anywhere. The state requirement trumps anything university officials would prefer, but football officials are still stressing vaccinations both internally and among fans. From the Washington Post:

Florida Athletic Director Scott Stricklin applauds LSU. 

“I think there’s a lot of benefits” to the entry-screening policy, he said in an interview inside what is formally named Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. But Stricklin noted that SEC universities answer to various local and state authorities. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and others overseeing public higher education in the state have opposed vaccine and mask mandates.

Stricklin said he believes the home opener will be safe. Vaccine promotions will appear in the stadium during the game, he said, and there will be tents outside for people who decide, on the spur of the moment, to get inoculated. The athletic director said he is proud that 92 percent of Florida’s football players have been vaccinated, as well as all of the team’s coaches. The University of Mississippi set the SEC standard on that metric, recently announcing all of its football players are vaccinated.

The concern is that fans crammed into the stands will create a super-spreader event. Florida suffers from the highest COVID-related hospitalization and death rates in the county (though both numbers are trending down). But with contact tracing also banned by the state, it won’t be easy to track if there is indeed a super-spreader event.

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August Publications