Unmasked college crowds raise questions about whether college football is even possible

Published 11:54 am Monday, August 17, 2020

University of Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne tweeted a photo that many college fans did not want to see Sunday.

“Who wants college sports this fall?? Obviously not these people!! We’ve got to do better than this for each other and our campus community. Please wear your masks!” Byrne said in a tweet Sunday with an accompanying photo that showed dozens of people, many not wearing face masks or staying away from others, waiting to get in a popular bar on The Strip in Tuscaloosa.

Scenes of crowded entertainment districts and bars on the first weekend many university students returned to campus are raising new questions about safety during the coronavirus pandemic and whether college football can be played this year.

Mayor Walt Maddox wrote that police and firefighters now have to come in early and are “actively enforcing” pandemic regulations. “It’s a damn shame that our officers who are stretched thin across the City and who are working to exhaustion can’t have a few hours of down time,” Maddox said on Twitter.

Tuscaloosa police officers issued 12 citations for mask violations and arrested four people, but the problem wasn’t just at the University of Alabama: Photos on social media also showed large crowds and relatively few masks around Auburn University over the weekend.

Public health officials worry that crowds on college campuses, combined with the resumption of classes in elementary through high school grades, will increase the spread of the new coronavirus which causes COVID-19.

While some campuses are teaching classes primarily online and some collegiate athletic leagues have canceled fall sports, the Southeastern Conference — which includes Alabama and Auburn — is moving ahead with plans to play games beginning Sept. 26. The league planned to announce its revised game schedule on Monday.

Universities have enacted rules meant to enforce mask wearing and social distancing on campus, and Alabama has a statewide rule requiring masks in public places. But the rules are being ignored.

In Tuscaloosa, where bars are required to close at 11 p.m. this fall to help stem the spread of the virus, Uber driver Ray Allen told a columnist for The Tuscaloosa News the crowds just move to houses once the nightclubs close. Most students “could care less” about wearing masks, Allen said.

“I see it every night,” he said. “It’s an on-going party.”

More than 104,000 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Alabama and at least 1,830 have died of the illness, which usually results in only mild to moderate symptoms but is particularly dangerous for the elderly and people with other health problems.