COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - As two major college conference postpone their fall football seasons, the SEC and the University of South Carolina are keeping “all options on the table,” according to UofSC athletics spokesman Steve Fink.
Fink also said the decision on whether fans will be in the stadium, the schedule, and other logistics changes “by the hour.”
The SEC responded to the PAC-12 and the Big Ten’s decision to cancel their season by saying the league “remains comfortable” with their plans.
Governor Henry McMaster also added to the discussion Monday by saying he fully supports having a fall football season. However, the team needs to meet certain conditions to play with fans present.
Under current orders from the governor, no more than 250 people are allowed to gather in one space without an exemption from the Department of Commerce and oversight from DHEC.
According to a Freedom of Information Act request, Gamecocks football hasn’t requested that exemption yet, but the team tells WIS they are working on it.
Fink said under normal conditions, more than 250 people would be in the stadium for a game without including fans. There are 114 players on the Gamecocks’ roster who go to games (whether in uniform or not) and the opposing team brings 70 players. Fink explained in addition to those more than 180 people, each team has multiple coaches, medical professionals, cheerleaders, and other staff.
But UofSC sports law professor Joe McCulloch said there are multiple legal and ethical decisions teams need to consider beyond just the safety of the team and its staff.
“There are issues upon issues that have been issues that relate to coaches, that relate to players and eligibility, that relate to the cancellation or postponement of the events that might require refunds, that might prevent the ability for the university to make its debt service on all the construction projects that are due and owing,” McCulloch explained.
He added no decision when it relates to university athletics happens in a vacuum.
“Every decision will have a cascade effect if not a pancake effect. And every one will involve multitudes of different entities...if they have a season or not,” he said.
McCulloch also said this decision has a huge impact on the Columbia community from an economic and health perspective considering each game brings an “eight-to-ten-hour cocktail party” with thousands of people to the Capital City.
Columbia City Councilman Howard Duvall said not having up the usual 80,000 people in Columbia for about 10 weeks will hurt local businesses in the area. However, he explained he doesn’t anticipate that many people will come to Columbia even if there is football this fall.
COVID-19 researchers said, given the efforts by the university to frequently monitor the athletes, keep them in small groups, and provide testing for them as needed, the risk to them is low. But the risk isn’t zero especially considering they may spread the virus if they contract it.
Experts added there is also typically more mobility in Columbia around big games as people tailgate and watch with others, which can increase the potential spread of the virus.