The 2020 Southeastern Conference football season finally kicks off Saturday at 11 a.m. in Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium. The stadium has a capacity of 87,451, but only 17,000 socially distanced fans will be inside.
Some of those will be Auburn students who are going to be responsible for providing the Tigers with some semblance of a home-crowd advantage against a good Kentucky team.
The non-students all have two things in common: 1) They love the Auburn Tigers. 2) They don’t bother looking at the menu prices when they dine out.
The tickets reserved for regular fans will all go to those who are accustomed to sitting in “controlled premium spaces.” That’s another way of saying spaces reserved for rich people. In fact, if you haven’t donated at least $200,000 to Auburn athletics, you’re going to find yourself on the “we are sorry to inform you” list.
I’ve watched Robin Leach on “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” I’ve complimented Jimmy Rane on the quality of his yellow wood. I’ve stood next to Apple CEO and Auburn graduate Tim Cook on the sideline before. So, I know there are people who give no more thought to buying a private island than I do buying a Millionaire$ candy bar.
But how in the world are there so many people walking among us who have $200,000 to donate to their alma mater?
To paraphrase Tupac, I ain’t mad at ’em. I just don’t know where they’re all hanging out.
I also have serious concerns about whether these fans with $200,000 lying around are going to be as raucous and vocal as the fans who normally fill Jordan-Hare Stadium.
The fear is SEC football games will become as sterile as the Super Bowl is every year.
The Super Bowl reserves a small number of tickets for die-hard fans of each team, but the majority go to big-money sponsors and those who have a relationship with those sponsors. The result is more imbibing of wine and cheese and less consumption of refreshments that began the day tucked into someone’s sock.
Maybe I’ll be proven wrong and the crowd will still be a major advantage for every SEC team playing at home. But we already know the experience is going to be very different.
Also worth noting is that it’s going to be nearly impossible to scalp a ticket since there won’t be any paper tickets, just digital ones.
Here are some of the rules and regulations being mandated by the SEC this season:
No mascots, live or costumed, will be allowed on the field. That means the traditional flying of the eagle will not be allowed at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Auburn officials are expected to simulate the flying of the eagle on the large video screen.
About half of what is normally a 350-member band will be present, but they won’t be allowed on the field to perform. The same goes for cheerleaders and the Tiger Paws, who will be present but relegated to the stands.
Everyone will have their temperature checked as they enter the stadium.
There will be no shuttle to the stadium and no tailgating outside.
Ticket holders will be provided with a recommended entry time and gate to facilitate stadium entry, as identified on the stadium map.
Non-prohibited item check stations on the exterior of the stadium have been eliminated. All prohibited items will have to be disposed of or returned to vehicles before entry into the stadium.
Fans must wear face coverings (over the nose and mouth) while in the stadium.
Auburn associate athletics director Tim Jackson announced earlier they will evaluate ticket procedures on an individual basis for each of the home games and policies are subject to change. That means if students don’t comply with the rules related to social distancing and other safety procedures, then a larger percentage of tickets for future games will go to the big-money donors.
It’s possible my fears about reduced crowd involvement could be proven wrong. Certainly, the first on-campus game at South Alabama last week included a decided home-field advantage. Even though there were only 6,200 fans in attendance, it sounded and felt like a major sporting event. In short, the atmosphere was awesome.
The same may well be true all across the SEC, where everyone is equally excited about cheering on their favorite team during a season that was very much in doubt.
So, yes, it’s going to sound and feel a little different. But it’s finally time for some SEC football. That’s certainly reason to cheer.
Randy Kennedy, who has been a leading voice on the Gulf Coast sports scene for 18 years, writes a weekly column for Lagniappe. His sports talk show airs weekdays on Sports Talk 99.5.
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