OXFORD – Though most athletics directors believe there will be college football in 2020 the if and when remain unanswered questions.
Ole Miss officials, though, are busy working on the how.
A recent announcement that the school will punt paper tickets and move exclusively to no-contact digital ticketing is just one move that’s been discussed.
In addition to the unknown of timing for college football the presence of fans is also unresolved.
Ole Miss athletics director Keith Carter says all options are on the table as schools work to make college football happen.
That’s not surprising. In major college athletics football is everyone’s biggest money-maker, and funding isn’t what it was pre-pandemic.
“When I was at Georgia Southern I told all of our sports and all of our fans that we will be a comprehensive athletic program as long as football allows us to be comprehensive,” said Tom Kleinlein, who was hired as deputy athletics director at Ole Miss in January following a 7 ½-year run as an AD in the Sun Belt Conference. “That was my way of saying that we’re all going to benefit from having a great football program.”
Even games with no fans would generate television revenue, and administrators acknowledge this.
But no one wants games without fans.
“It’s on the table, but I think it’s a very, very last resort,” Kleinlein said.
The most-favored plans will involve fans in attendance, but fans will have to get used to some changes in the game-day experience.
For Ole Miss, ticketing is just one change.
Fans could also be required to wear masks. Changes like that and others could be put in motion once state and federal guidelines are announced when it’s deemed safe to gather in groups as large as those that attend college football games.
“If the state of Mississippi and the federal guidelines say if you’re going to have a gathering of this many people masks are required then that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to follow those guidelines,” Kleinlein said.
Some entrepreneurs have already reached out to the school about providing Ole Miss-branded masks for sale.
Currently there is no fine-tuned plan for masks at Ole Miss football games, but if it comes to that, ‘We’re going to figure out a way because we want to play in front of fans,” Kleinlein said.
The school is also looking at “cash-less” concessions that would require fans to scan their own bank cards or credit cards.
Plexi-glass shields between customers and concessionaires at check-out points could become a common sight.
The use of mobile apps for concessions is also a possibility.
The school is also considering ways for social distancing in restrooms that could mean more portable facilities inside the stadium.
“We don’t want to go too far. At some point we’re going to get back to normal,” Kleinlein said. “The challenge for us is make it safe, make it a good environment now but not go overboard and totally change the fan experience such that people don’t want to come back. That’s a tough challenge. We’re working through that right now.”