If college football kicked off this week it would not bode well for fans wanting to watch from inside stadiums across Mississippi.
Things could change between now and Labor Day weekend, however.
Gov. Tate Reeves, in comments at his regular media briefing on Monday, left open the possibility that there could be no college football in the state but leaned to the idea that the games would be played before significantly reduced crowds.
While Power Five conferences the Big 10 and the Pac-12 have already announced their intentions to play only conference games the SEC is expected to unveil its plan either late this week or early next week.
Reeves indicated he is unlikely to alter plans formulated by college conferences and university leaders, but he’ll have a big say in the number of fans allowed to attend.
“The decisions on whether to play at the college level are more likely to be made at the university and conference levels,” Reeves said. “The number of people in the stands, if any, is likely to be made by the leaders in each state.”
Reeves speculated that the number of fans attending games could be as low as 10, 20 or 35 percent of the capacity of the various stadiums.
Reeves said he’s been in frequent communication with university leaders on this topic throughout the COVID-19 crisis including multiple meetings in the last 10 days.
The first Division I football games in Mississippi are currently scheduled for Sept. 5 when Southern Miss takes on South Alabama in Hattiesburg, and Mississippi State faces New Mexico State in Starkville.
The first Ole Miss home game is scheduled for Sept. 12 against Southeast Missouri State.
Southwestern Athletic Conference officials have already announced that they will postpone football and all fall sports with the likelihood of playing those sports in the spring of 2021.
The decision leaves Southern Miss without a Week 3 game. The Golden Eagles were scheduled to face Jackson State in Hattiesburg.
Reeves and Dr. Thomas Dobbs, the state’s chief health officer, say the fact that football is played outdoors can be somewhat of a mitigating factor, but there’s great concern for stadium choke points such as restrooms, concessions stands, entrances and exits.
While crowd size is an issue they believe a safe environment can be created for players.
“I’ll tell you, in the outbreak we’ve seen among football players they all got it at parties after hours or bars,” Dobbs said. “The bigger thing is where people are getting it, and people are getting it when they’re socializing and hanging out.”
Continued testing will be a critical component for player safety, Dobbs said.
“The bad news is if college football was kicking off tomorrow it’s not likely there would be very many people there. Seven or eight weeks from now we can make a significant difference in what that looks like by doing the little things today like wearing masks in public,” Reeves said. “You can make a difference in whether we have crowds at college football and quite frankly whether we have college football or not.”