Fans across Nebraska rejoiced at the September announcement of a Husker football season this fall.
However, their celebrations were bittersweet. Even though there will be touchdowns scored at Memorial Stadium this fall, there will be no fans there to cheer about them. This is just one of the tough realities facing collegiate athletics amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
While schools like UNL are relieved to have fall sports, many athletes at UNO will have to wait until spring to compete. With the winter sports season coming up quickly, schools across the country have decisions to make regarding spectators at sporting events.
UNO Athletic Director Trev Alberts said that, now that fall sports have been moved to spring, the focus has shifted to winter sports. UNO has been working with both the Summit League and the National Collegiate Hockey Conference to come to a decision regarding fans in attendance at winter sporting events.
Right now, there is no centralized decision in terms of a conference-wide approach. UNO has also been working closely with the governor’s office and the Douglas County Health Department. Baxter Arena currently has approval for 75% capacity, while meeting social distancing guidelines. Right now in an 8000 seat venue, the arena has approval to hold about 3000 fans.
Because UNO participates in two conferences, Alberts says that he will be a strong advocate for allowing each individual institution to make the decisions based on what’s in the best interest of their local health department.
However, this could present some challenges.
Alberts says: “Let’s say, in Omaha, we are allowing fans, and one of our competitors is not allowing fans and their institution and coaches don’t want to play at a place that has fans involved. That could create some challenges.”
UNO is working on creating a health screening for spectators. They have been working with the Data Center for Global Health to create a process for fans to go through the Covid 1-Check app created by UNO students and complete a self-screening. Masks would also be mandatory.
The beginning of the season could also look different from the end.
“The start of the season might have few or no fans,” Alberts said. “And then after we get to the first of the year, after we test our protocols and we get comfortable that we’re doing this in a safe manner, then maybe the back half of the year after the first of the year we may get more traditional with our fans and our travel.”
There is no set decision yet, but Alberts is hopeful that there will be one in the coming month.
While the athletic department is working to provide for those with contracted seating, student athletes’ families and students remain a high priority, Alberts said.
Over the course of his tenure, Alberts said that he has worked hard to provide access for students at athletic events.
“To be totally honest, the best fans we have are our students,” Alberts said. “They’re the loudest, they’re the most energetic. They get into the chants. I mean, the students are everything.”
The student section is preparing for both outcomes as the winter seasons start approaching.
Since fall sports were postponed, the Maverick Maniacs have been quiet, Director of Spirit and Tradition Bill Pickett said.
The student section is hoping to cheer on the Mavericks at home games this winter. Pickett says they will do whatever they can to support the student athletes.
“If they don’t allow any fans at all, then we would do like virtual watch parties, the only tricky thing is not every game is televised or on the internet,” Pickett says.
They’ve also discussed creating content with the dance and cheer teams to display on the jumbotron in Baxter Arena so the teams can still be involved on game days, Pickett said.
Even if the arena remains empty for another season, students will always find a way to remain involved.