Alabama football planning for full stadium in 2021? A word of cautious optimism | Hurt

Cecil Hurt
The Tuscaloosa News

The coronavirus, in its brief but destructive existence, has shown little respect for plans.

That doesn’t mean planning isn’t important. That just means that the past 14 months or so have shown that the road doesn’t always run straight, as weary as everyone is of twists and turns. 

That’s why the pivotal word in Greg Byrne’s Monday tweet that Alabama football is proceeding with “plans to have a full stadium in the fall” remains “plans.” Byrne’s tweet, which came in conjunction with a university announcement of plans to have full on-campus classes in the fall semester, was in keeping with two surveys that had been sent to season-ticket holders in January and February, both of which indicated that Alabama was planning on full football capacity although season ticket deadlines would remain flexible.

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Byrne went on to note in Monday’s tweet that Alabama officials will continue to “monitor medical guidelines.” As was the case in 2020, no decision about stadium capacity will be unilateral. There will be consultations with state and local governments and, presumably, the Southeastern Conference as well. 

Alabama isn’t alone in planning for full houses in the fall. Texas and Texas A&M  said essentially the same thing last week, even as the Texas A&M men’s basketball team was wrapping up an entire month of COVID-19 related cancellations.

Fans cheer during the Alabama-Tennessee football game at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Oct. 21, 2017.

Florida athletics director Scott Stricklin, for instance, was more guarded on Twitter Tuesday. 

“My sense is all schools/teams are “planning” for full stadiums ... question is: “will healthcare guidance allow for it?” Based on what I’m hearing from epidemiologists and virologists there is optimism!”

That’s probably the best word to be used: optimism. Trends seem more promising than they did a month ago.

A study released by UAB’s Department of Health Sciences last week said herd immunity across the U.S. might be possible by late spring. Vaccines are becoming more readily available. Hospitalizations are down.

No one is saying the response is perfect across the nation or that coronavirus will be eradicated, but there is a sense that things will be more manageable. 

As a result, it’s sensible for Alabama and other schools to be planning a return to normalcy. If things have to be changed, they can be: another lesson from 2020. It’s also understandable how excited college football fans are at anything that hints at “normalcy.”

If there was one great disappointment in Alabama’s 2020 season, that came from stands that looked deserted, if not technically empty. Television filled the void, but the live experience remains part of the fabric of intercollegiate sports. Whoever thought there would be anticipation for sitting in a stadium to watch Alabama play Mercer in 100-degree heat? But there is.

There will certainly be continued updates from Alabama and the SEC over the next several months. Nothing has been finalized, but the hope now is that when it is not merely a plan, but a plan put into effect, the outcome will be happiness and a sigh of relief.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt