Like many, I suspect, the news of a college football season for some of the conferences – including both of West Virginia’s FBS teams – was met with both joy and wariness.
Heck yeah, let’s strap it on, I thought. Followed by, with a mask?
I’m happy for the players though. There is a love of the sport that can’t be ignored. Let’s say a prayer outbreaks will be minimal and the players can strive to excel.
I understand at Marshall the plan is to allow 25 to 30 percent of Joan C. Edwards Stadium’s capacity to be filled – with masks and social distancing measures in place.
Sadly, the Thundering Herd lost nonconference games against Pitt and Boise State to the pandemic. Cruel twist for Doc Holliday’s program.
Yet MU will at least have some fans in the stands for their opener against Eastern Kentucky on Sept. 5.
That’s not the case for WVU, at least for the opener.
In the Mountaineers’ opener on Sept. 12 – oddly, also against EKU – no spectators will be allowed at Milan Puskar Stadium.
It’s the right call, of course, considering the Covid-19 outbreaks Morgantown has suffered. WVU athletic department officials, in conjunction with university, local and state officials, made the call that only essential game operations personnel and families of the players and football staff will be admitted.
“We are disappointed that we will not be able to allow fans to attend the Sept. 12 home game,” said Mountaineer athletic director Shane Lyons via a press release, “but we are working diligently to open our gates for Big 12 Conference play.”
Lyons went on to say the decision wasn’t only made with the players in mind, but also the WVU campuses.
Again, it was the right call. But it got me thinking.
All athletic contests are richly enhanced by fans. Outcomes of games can be affected by the cheering, the urging, the intimidation.
But no sport will be affected by the lack of fans like college football.
There are the teams battling on the field, yes. Yet the tradition and passion of fans that wrap around the game are what make the experience. Tradition and passion are experienced even if you’re just watching on TV.
Let’s simply focus on WVU. Perhaps the Pride of WVU band can play, but consider the halftime show without the fans. Or before the game, when the band members make room for the team to run onto the field. Or the first-down cheer. Or, afterward, the singing of “Country Roads.”
WVU fans are the team and the team is WVU’s fans. They are so intertwined it’s hard to imagine one being without the other on Sept. 12.
Which, of course, is the way it’s shaping up.
Let’s just hope the pandemic numbers continue to improve.
The Mountaineer team needs its fans. And the fans need their team.