Iowa Football

What kind of football games would Iowa and Iowa State have without fans?

How would you feel about attending games this fall?

Hawkeye fans make their way to the front row before the Iowa State-Iowa football game at Kinnick Stadium on Sept. 11, 20
Hawkeye fans make their way to the front row before the Iowa State-Iowa football game at Kinnick Stadium on Sept. 11, 2010. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Another slice of 2020 sports reality was served up Monday, in Iowa.

University of Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta announced Hawkeyes football was pausing additional ticket sales and would begin focusing on reduced-capacity seating models.

The Hawkeyes have sold roughly 40,000 season tickets, including student tickets. And that’s where it stops, for now. The next question is if 40,000 fans at games is realistic. Which really is just a shadow question for this: Will there be games at all, and if so, will any fans be present?

Iowa State had already targeted 50 percent capacity for its games at Jack Trice Stadium, which would be about 30,000 per game. On Monday night, however, the Story County Board of Health recommended that ISU prohibits spectators from sporting events this fall because of the pandemic.

A passage from the approved recommendations: “We cannot think of any way these events can be made even remotely safe with the masses of people from all over the state who routinely attend these events. Please do it for the health of our community.”

Meanwhile, the conferences and schools try to figure out how to play their games in something resembling a safe way. And it’s still just June.

The NBA and NHL are planning to complete their 2019-20 seasons next month in controlled environments without fans, yet they still face a lot of coronavirus-related hurdles.

With major-college football, you have to figure every stop will be pulled to have a season, fans or not. The TV money is too great, the dollars too necessary to sustaining entire athletics departments. Were there no football season, college athletics would tailspin and the economic ramifications will affect all sorts of people.

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So this will be a moving-parts summer with nothing assured. The prospect of reduced crowds or no crowds at all is dreary. Besides all the money they leave behind, what we’ve seen from televised sports of the last few weeks is that fans matter.

Last Saturday’s Belmont Stakes had no fans, and thus, no atmosphere. They played Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” on the public-address system like they do every year, but this time it seemed weird with the sound bouncing off the empty grandstand.

There have been two PGA Tour events that have been held since that season resumed two weeks ago and the schedule runs through Nov. 22. It’s been odd watching silence following a made 25-foot putt for birdie. That’s not how it’s supposed to work.

Golf fans can be a little weird, especially those who shout at golf balls to get in the hole. But their reactions are the soundtrack for the tournaments.

Soccer’s Premier League has restarted in England. Television pumps in taped crowd noise. When you’re hearing fans and the stadium is empty, it all just feels silly.

I don’t enjoy the late-night talk shows the way I did in the pre-coronavirus world. Hosts doing monologues without any kind of response from an audience detracts from the show. Good jokes or ad-libs don’t get the laughter they deserve, and bad ones aren’t adequately rejected. Interviews conducted via video conferencing are lacking, too.

Major-college football and basketball with few fans or none at all would feel similarly. Plus, there go the biggest home-field/home-court advantages. The games might feel like a Bahamas Bowl or a Yale-Purdue first-round NCAA tournament game in Albuquerque.

Among the very little upside is that you’d be able to hear the players and coaches from your living room. That, however, wouldn’t be an adequate substitution for pregame tailgating at the stadium or getting fired up when your team’s fight song is played for the first time that day.

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It’s so disappointing and dispiriting that the coronavirus hasn’t been contained in this country. It sure seems like it didn’t have to be this way, but here we are. Mask up.

Would or wouldn’t you attend college football games this fall, and why? Let me know at mike.hlas@thegazette.com.

Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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