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College Football

Having Fans In The Stands Has Never Seemed Like A Worse Idea

Fans storm the field after the Notre Dame Fighting Irish defeated the Clemson Tigers 47-40 in double overtime at Notre Dame Stadium on November 7, 2020
Matt Cashore-Pool/Getty Images

On Saturday, an Irish challenger defeated the orange menace who had previously stood at the top of the country, sending a crowd of thousands into a close-quarters celebration deep into the night. OK, I’m not going to commit to this bit for much longer, but the post-game celebrations after No. 4 Notre Dame outlasted previously undefeated No. 1 Clemson in double overtime by the tune of 47-40 served as a perfect warning for the dangers of having fans in the stands of sporting events.

I mean, just look at this shit:

Watching the scenes from South Bend on the same day that millions rushed the streets to celebrate Joe Biden’s election victory over Donald Trump was a sobering reminder that, even with good news, the coronavirus does not take days off. The United States has had a brutal year, between the pandemic and the insufficient government response that helped cause over 230,000 deaths, the protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, a seemingly never-ending election week in which the incumbent openly claimed fraud, et cetera. It’s only natural that people would take to the streets, bang on pots and pans, honk their horns, and generally revel in the first bit of not-bad news they’ve had all year.

It’s also only natural, particularly on a college campus full of 18-to-22-year-olds, that fans would want to amass to commemorate a historic victory; I wouldn’t want to be the security guards who would have had to stop thousands—Notre Dame is allowing about 15,000 fans, or 20 percent capacity, into the stadium for games—from rushing the field in order to comply with any sort of social distancing. If you could design a perfect super-spreader event, the only way that the Notre Dame celebrations do not match it is that the game did not take place in a dome. But, as we found out with the Justin Turner saga in the World Series, if someone wants to celebrate, there’s little that can be done to stop them, regardless of how irresponsible and dangerous it might be.

Resist any urges to scold these fans and think more about the protocols that allowed them into the stadium at all while the pandemic continues to rage. The safety and public health of the crowd has to be on the minds of those in charge, but the potential for profits and a visual “return to normalcy” have won out in a lot of places. The conferences can set up as many social distancing rules, mask protocols, and testing mandates as they want, but once you allow people in, there are no rules in the world that can prevent them from wilding out if the situation calls for it.

And the situation did call for it, because Notre Dame did its part on the field, holding off Clemson with two sacks in the second overtime to finally stop an offense that kept motoring, even without Trevor Lawrence on the night. Speaking of Lawrence, he was not playing on Saturday after also missing last week’s come-from-behind win over Boston College over a COVID-19 positive test. The presumptive No. 1 pick in the upcoming 2021 NFL Draft was, however, on the sidelines on Saturday, having cleared the ACC’s mandatory 10-day isolation period. Cameras caught Lawrence lowering his mask during the game to talk to one of his teammates, which is not what you want from someone who, again, just barely cleared the isolation period requirement before the game.

College football has struggled with the balancing act required when trying to both contain the virus and host the lucrative games that it was desperate for. It’s the same impulse that has prioritized recharging the economy across the country over preventing the spread of COVID-19. One can only hope that there is not a spike in coronavirus cases following the dual celebrations on Saturday, and there’s at least some hope: Photos and videos from both show people at least wearing masks. However, especially at Notre Dame, masks can only do so much when you pack that many potential hosts for the virus into such a tight space. We can, and some already have, clown the fans for it, but the responsibility of the individual can only go so far. This is on those ostensibly in charge, those who created the conditions for this celebration, and those who will likely brush it aside as a moment of pure jubilation, the kind often seen in college football. It’s just never been this dangerous before.