The fate of fall football is on you.

Fans are ready for the football—more than 18,000 have already bought Mountaineers’ season tickets. The first home game is September 12. 

But here’s the reality: 28 players have tested positive for COVID-19. And Mon County’s COVID numbers spiked so high this month that neighboring Marion County advises residents to stay away. 

So what, really, are the chances of cheering from the stands at Milan Puskar Stadium seven weeks from now? It’s still an open question, but here’s the latest.

Will there be empty seats between ticket blocks that are sold? It’s too early to make an announcement about seating, says WVU Athletics spokesman Matt Wells. But word has it that preliminary plans for the Mountaineers’ September 5 Chick-fil-A Kickoff game in Atlanta against Florida State include 25 percent-, 30 percent-, and 50 percent-capacity scenarios, and that may be the kind of planning underway at WVU as well. 

Will tailgating be allowed? Will concessions be sold? Too soon to say on all of that, Wells says. 

Will masks be required in the stadium? More likely than not, Wells says. “More definitive details to come, but I think everybody should take cues from Dr. Marsh and the governor—masks are a very important piece of this, and I would anticipate that they would be part of the plan.”

What’s planned to keep players and coaches safe? The NCAA’s third guidance document for safe practice and competition includes measures like testing of student athletes within 72 hours of a football game, integration of masks and face shields, and the use of electronic whistles. 

Can they prevent infecting the entire team at once? Maybe! In a July 17 NCAA Social Series interview, WVU Athletic Director Shane Lyons talked about a pod system developed in consultation with the American Football Coaches Association to minimize exposure on the practice field. If starters practice against a third unit and second-stringers against a fourth, contact tracing following an infection would quarantine only that player’s pod rather than the entire team.

If outbreaks follow games, might the season be cancelled? Would season tickets be refunded? All under discussion. “There are a lot of different contingencies being worked on,” Wells says. “Plans A through Z are on the shelf and ready to implement based on the variables and factors at the time.”

When will we have answers? There’s no target date for decisions. As you can see, the season involves planners in county health departments, college athletic departments, the athletic conferences, and more, all of them operating in a fluid environment. “Everybody’s trying to give this thing as much time as they can to see where it heads,” Wells says. “If we start trending back in a positive direction, we’ll adjust and adapt one way. If it continues to go in a negative direction, we’ll do something else.” Most important to understand is that plans are in place for various scenarios.

Lyons’ recent interviews connect the fate of the season to the behavior between now and then of the athletes and the fans. If people follow the guidance to slow the spread, we can look forward to sitting in the stands come September.

What do you think about having fans in the stands this fall? Take our poll.

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Pam Kasey
Written by Pam Kasey
Pam Kasey has traveled, brewed, farmed, counseled, and renovated, but most loves to write. She has degrees in economics from the University of Chicago and in journalism from West Virginia University. She loves celebrating Morgantown and West Virginia as executive editor at New South Media.