Seriously, have you ever thought about what it would be like to shoulder the responsibility of opening Autzen Stadium for the 2020 football season? Everything is new in this COVID-19 afflicted world we live in. We have not been here before and there is no blueprint to follow.
There are suggestions and guidelines for managing exposure to COVID-19 coming from many sources, including the White House, NIH (The National Health Institute) and CDC at the federal level, and the Office of the Governor, the Oregon Health Authority Public Health Division and county and city public health departments at the state and local levels.
At the University of Oregon various offices and entities exert influence over when and how Autzen Stadium will open and operate for games. The President, Board of Trustees, Administration, Athletic Director, Athletic Department, and the Football Department staff will have their say, directly or indirectly. Surely there are other groups with input and oversight including Facilities Management, Public Safety, Medical and Training, Concessions, and Stadium Operations.
The above is not a complete listing, but you quickly get the idea of the complexity and overlap involved here. There are a heck of a lot of people, departments and organizations affecting the opening and operation of Autzen Stadium for the 2020 football season.
“Oh, come on”, you may be thinking, “it is not that complicated.” People are concerned for their health and responsible toward others.” Really? Just look at the pool in the Ozarks, the Ft. Lauderdale beach, or the bars in Austin for proof of what responsible people will do.
The above-named government and university agencies and departments are concerned about control, public safety, responsibility boundaries, financial impact, and public relations. Intertwined are the interests and voices of paying fans, students, athletes, season ticket holders, alums, benefactors, and media, among others. (Stay with me here) This is a complex problem requiring comprehensive, integrated solutions.
Oregon DuckS football fans are known to be loud and rabid. The fans encompass all ages from toddlers to centenarians. People have differing views by age groups- also different risk factors from exposure to COVID-19. There is no reason to think the fan base will accept and easily adjust to limitations and changes from the past norms when they are applied to Ducks Football.
So, if you were in charge, or part of the decision-making team, what stipulations would you champion for opening or not opening Autzen Stadium? Assuming opening, how will you protect the health of players and fans attending games?
• Autzen football games open to fans, or not?
• Limit attendance to 15,000/30,000/Other?
• Sanitizing touch points? Which touch points?
• Spacing and social distancing in access and crowding points?
• Spacing and social distancing standards in seats?
• Masks or no masks? Everywhere or where?
• Concessions or no concessions?
• No paper tickets. No Will Call?
• Age-restricted access? Must be older than? Must be younger than?
• Temperature before entrance?
• Restroom restrictions and protocols?
• Crowd control operations?
• Tolerance of violations? Enforcement.
• Outside parking areas, walkways, tailgates, etc.?
It would be easy to drone on endlessly making lists that those responsible have already made. The point here is that some people will wrestle with these issues and others and make hard calls that will inconvenience or anger other people or even exclude them from live Ducks football.
Allow me to tell you about my community swimming pool to illustrate cause and effect as it may relate to opening Autzen. I serve on the neighborhood HOA Board – a thankless duty. Our neighborhood has a nice pool area. The pool area is the neighborhood’s most desirable amenity.
Given the COVID-19 pandemic, the Governor of the State of South Carolina ordered all public and community pools closed.
As the rate of new cases began to fall, the Governor turned over the pool regulations to SC DHEC, (Department of Health and Environmental Control) and the DHEC soon thereafter issued “Guidelines for RE: Opening Community Pools.” Not long after that DHEC issued modified rules thereto.
Back to the pool. The board announced the pool closed until “the Guidelines of SC DHEC can be reasonably met.” The normal pool opening date in early May came and went. Residents began to scream that their rights were being denied. Some threatened lawyering up, withholding monthly assessed dues payments, attempting to organize boycotts, etc. You get it.
When the board, with legal counsel and following consultation with insurance experts, other HOA’s with pools, and following significant research decided it could open the pool under stringently-enforced 2020 COVID-19 stipulations, and only after a Waiver of Liability and Acceptance of Pool Rules Form was executed.
The decision has resulted in a polarized community of residents. Those who thought their rights and summer traditions were being violated by a closed pool are aligned against those who felt their rights are being violated and that undo risk to the HOA has been created by allowing any access to the pool. A chasm has been opened. No one on either side likes the stipulations made for the sake of safety, i.e., limiting hours; social distancing spacing; no guests allowed only residents, the Liability Waiver being mandatory to receive a 2020 pool pass, and so on.
Each of us has our own world view and Ducks view. Our feelings are closely tied to our own personal culture of Ducks football, our traditions, and the attitudes we hold about rules, civility, and authority.
In the debate about opening Autzen for football, it is not about you, but about common good and public health as determined by those with the authority to make those decisions. We are at the end of their whips.
Can you put aside your initial reactions, emotions, and your love of Ducks football to appreciate the wisdom and roles of those in making the decisions relevant to opening? Will you be humble and kind to your fellow Duck fans, regardless of the irritation of the needles in your hind end?
Do you wonder? What’s going on? Déjà vu.
Greenville, South Carolina
Top Photo by
Brad Nye, the FishDuck.com volunteer editor for this article, works for the Deschutes Land Trust in Central Oregon.
Born in Eugene, Brent Pennington grew up along the Siuslaw river in Lane county. He attended his first Ducks football game in 1960, and was inside Autzen stadium for its opening game in ’67. Brent attended the UO College of Business Administration from 1969-1975 interrupted by U.S. Army service. He has traveled much of the world in the Lotteries and Gaming industry.
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