This is a sports column. I am a sports columnist. I am also a human being who is willing to assume an acceptable amount of risk during the pandemic world that we are currently living in while also accepting we are all entering into a social contract to take care of each other whenever we venture out of our homes.
Now that we have established those ground rules, we can talk about the changes in policy for LSU’s home game Saturday against Missouri. That is, assuming a game can be played with yet another hurricane set to menace our Louisiana shores by Friday (more on that later).
LSU’s announcement Monday that it was going to begin allowing alcohol sales for its remaining home games and scrap the policy of having people submit to CDC wellness checks before entering the newly expanded Tiger Stadium perimeter was predictably met with a wide range of responses on social media. Everything essentially from “Cheers!” to “What are they trying to do, kill people?”
Let’s say that on the subject of games being played and fans in the stands there are two groups of people, just like Cats versus Dogs or Ford versus Chevrolet. With this issue, you have the “We need football” group and the “You’re inviting the apocalypse if you play” group.
LSU will sell alcohol inside Tiger Stadium this weekend, and the school no longer requires completion of a CDC wellness check before entering …
So we will assume that most critics of LSU’s move fall into the latter group. If you don’t even think they should be playing football at LSU or elsewhere among the colleges, there’s no shifting where you stand.
But in this case, LSU did make a shift. Gov. John Bel Edwards is allowing alcohol sales beginning this weekend at sporting events in parishes that meet the threshold for bars reopening. East Baton Rouge Parish wasn’t there for LSU’s Sept. 26 season opener against Mississippi State, though that 44-34 loss left more than a few Tiger fans looking to drown their sorrows. But now EBR will be there, and the beer and wine will flow, at least until the end of the third quarter or the clock strikes 11 p.m. for the 8 p.m. game, whichever comes first.
Meanwhile, the CDC wellness checks are going away. Personally, I think those who really wanted to go to attend the Mississippi State game in person were willing to say whatever it took on their wellness check to be allowed in. But LSU’s Robert Munson, senior associate athletic director for external communications, asserted it is a matter of the school trying to avoid potentially dangerous close order queues at stadium entry points.
“That’s why we added a dozen gates and a bigger northern perimeter” around the stadium, Munson said. “To keep people moving and keep them from stacking up. We found in monitoring the gates and having people present a digital ticket and a self-assessment and was causing backups. Eliminating as many choke points as we can takes precedent.”
The naysayer’s counter argument is just don’t allow fans. Or don’t play. But this is the path that LSU and most of the rest of the Southeastern Conference has chosen. Vanderbilt only allowed in students for Saturday’s 41-7 home loss to LSU, resulting in an announced attendance of 2,000 that has to rank as the smallest official crowd at an LSU football game in modern times.
Choke points, avoiding tight crowds, are definitely a must. To get to Nashville, we flew on a certain airline with a directional name that doesn’t have assigned seating. Usually you jam up like sardines waiting to board, but on our flights this weekend they encouraged everyone to stay seated until the group of 10 that their boarding number (like A-56) fell into was called. Then you got up and headed onto the jetway with that small batch of fellow travelers. Simple, and not crowded.
There are other changes, behavorial ones, that LSU is seeking to implement for the Missouri game: getting people to use non-typical gates and to keep their masks on in the stadium.
“A lot of new gates got the people in and out quickly,” Munson said. “But some on the south and west sides people felt they had to go to their normal gate. We’re going to be reminding them about that.”
The reminder: You can enter the stadium perimeter at any gate.
Munson said fans did a good job wearing required masks entering those gates, in the concourses, at restrooms and concession stands at the State game. But there were a lot of maskless fans sitting in the stands on a meltingly hot and sunny afternoon.
“We will do more reminding in venue during the game,” Munson said. “We’re not in the business of cracking down on people but educating them. And it being a night game instead of a day game should help.”
LSU starting running back Chris Curry did not play against Vanderbilt because of an undisclosed injury, Tigers coach Ed Orgeron told reporters…
Speaking of the game, Munson said LSU is of course monitoring the progress of Hurricane Delta as it boils across the Gulf of Mexico. As of Monday night, the storm was predicted to make landfall on the southeast Louisiana coast Friday afternoon, but Munson stressed it was too early to predict how it may or may not impact Saturday night’s game.
One thing not to expect: the game getting moved. The SEC carefully recrafted a 10-game conference-only schedule with five road and five home games and isn’t likely to upset that balance. I figure the game could certainly get postponed, but not moved.
LSU will have three home games after this one: Oct. 24 against South Carolina, Nov. 14 against Alabama and Dec. 5 against Ole Miss. Munson said it is possible that LSU will be able to allow more fans into the stands for later home games above the current 25% threshold of 25,580.
“We’re hoping to fill more seats as we go along,” Munson said. “But everything is subject to change for better or worse.”
Better like being able to sit in the stands for an LSU night game, as God intended, with a beer in hand. Or worse, like a hurricane coming along and rendering the whole operation moot for this Saturday.