USF fans divided on attending Homecoming game

USF fan Carl Zee (front, center) cheers on the Bulls at last year’s season opener. USF is welcoming fans at the Homecoming game Saturday, but some fans like Zee don’t feel it’s safe to attend games just yet, while others are trusting the new extensive COVID-19 guidelines at Raymond James Stadium. ORACLE PHOTO/LEDA ALVIM

Saturday’s Homecoming game against East Carolina will be a test, not just for USF football, but for the health and safety measures implemented at Raymond James Stadium.

Somewhere between 14,000-16,000 fans will be allowed in attendance, the most fans at a football game since, well, last season when the coronavirus pandemic wasn’t a thing. Last season, the average attendance was just under 32,000.

The stadium had a small hurdle to clear before allowing Bulls’ fans when it welcomed fewer than 10,000 fans at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers game against the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday.

For some fans, it’s a dream come true — being allowed to attend live USF games. For others, they’re not convinced it’s safe just yet. Student tickets will be available starting Monday, but it was not disclosed how many tickets will be available.

Nick Carroll, a financial controller and USF alum, said he already has tickets. He’s been a season ticket holder for the past five years.

“I have my tickets already purchased,” Carroll said to The Oracle on Facebook. “Disappointed about no tailgating, though. With no more than 25% capacity they should be able to distance the parking as well.”

It was announced on Sept. 29, along with in-stadium guidelines, that fans would not be allowed to tailgate at Raymond James Stadium. Fans will not be allowed to participate in recreational activities, and additional patrols will be used to enforce social distancing in the parking lots.

For some fans, tailgating is a staple pregame ritual.

“[T]ailgating is the best part,” Caitlin McLaughlin, a pre-medical sciences student told The Oracle on Facebook.

Lauren Pickel, an entertainment manager and USF alum, said she’s not a big fan of the no-tailgating policy.

“I don’t 100% agree with no tailgating since it’s an outdoor hang with the people you came with activity, but I’m assuming it’s because they don’t have enough staff who can ensure proper protocols are being followed,” she said in a Twitter message to The Oracle.

Pickel attended the Stanley Cup Celebration at Raymond James on Wednesday, in which attendance was capped at 16,000 fans.

“I got to see how Raymond James’ operations worked at the Lightning’s Stanley Cup Celebration and everything went smoothly and I felt safe,” she said.

There is a concern that fans will crowd the nearby restaurants and bars before each game, since Gov. DeSantis on Sept. 25 lifted all previous COVID-19 restrictions.

There may not be any tailgating allowed at Raymond James, but there are several bars and restaurants within 10 minutes of the stadium, including Miller’s Ale House, The WingHouse of Tampa Stadium and Bar Louie.

“[T]his just means that more people are going to crowd into restaurants around there before the game,” Carroll said.

Once fans get into the stadium, there will be a number of measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Fans will be required to wear masks and can sit in socially distanced “pods” if they attend with family or friends.

One-way walkways and queues, sanitization stations and touchless facilities are also features of Raymond James’s new prevention protocols.

Heath Rinkus, a benefits processor and USF alum, typically attends every USF football game. This year his presence won’t be felt in the stands.

“I honestly was probably going to avoid the home games this year just because of all the issues,” he said in a message to The Oracle on Twitter. “While I trust myself to be conscious and safe, I [don’t] trust several thousand people to respect the rules and health concerns.”

Nancy Carrow, a senior product manager said she’s already reserved six tickets for all four of USF’s remaining home games this season and doesn’t have any concerns about attending games.

“[W]e’ll be socially distanced in our pods, wearing masks, hand sanitizing and we’ll be outside,” Carrow told The Oracle on Twitter. “Raymond James has spent millions of [dollars] adding touch-free bathrooms, cashless food [and] drink purchasing. 

“I feel comfortable supporting our team while taking precautions.”

Carl Zee, a USF alum and traffic reporter said he’d wait it out to see if things get safer before he’d consider going to a game.

“Maybe late in the season if cases stop rising again,” he told The Oracle on Facebook.

Zee said he’d take into account what the case numbers look like before he’d consider going to a game.

Mask and social distancing protocols have been issued at different college stadiums, not just at Raymond James. Even so, fans have still been seen going maskless at games. 

In FSU’s season-opening 16-13 loss to Georgia Tech at Doak Campbell Stadium, images captured by ABC cameras showed multiple fans without masks and not following social distancing guidelines. About 17,500 fans were allowed in attendance.

Since then, FSU has tightened its fan attendance policies. It announced that students who wanted to attend home games would need to be tested and test negative prior to all home games.

USF’s COVID-19 protocols aren’t as strict as FSU’s, and some Bulls fans think going to games isn’t worth the risk.

“I’m not getting sick to watch this team play or any team really,” Ryan Haft, a social media manager and USF alum told The Oracle.

USF plans to allow fans at the remaining home games, but Vice President of Athletics Michael Kelly said the number of spectators allowed will be taken into account on “a week-by-week basis.”

Haft thinks stricter enforcement of guidelines will be needed to avoid a situation like what happened at Doak Campbell.

“FSU is going to be the benchmark,” he wrote in a Twitter message. “We either beat the benchmark or fail miserably.”

Pickel is optimistic the staff at Raymond James will enforce mask and social distancing requirements in order to avoid a situation like what happened with FSU.

But she also thinks the fans need to do their part.

“Be smart. Be safe and mask up,” she said. “Following a few rules for live college football seems like a small price to pay.”