By Lauren McDaniel, Gracie Hampton, Ann Katherine Adams, Anna Jordanou and Merrick McCool
As the 2020 SEC football season begins, game days at Ole Miss and around the conference will look different.
Health and safety regulations have been put in place due to COVID-19 which include limited stadium capacity, mask requirements and no tailgating in the Grove.
“It’s such a sanctuary in so many ways,” said Sparky Reardon, Dean of Students Emeritus. “It’s a very special place … It’s kind of our staging area, where everyone comes together in a communion of sorts as they head into battle. It’s the most unusual year it could ever be. I would see how it would be very hard to have a great deal of school spirit when there are only 16,000 people in the stadium and nobody in the Grove.”
Alumni are a huge contributor to the crowd in the Grove and in Vaught Hemingway Stadium.
Hailey Oldham, a recent Ole Miss graduate student said, “Although alumni would love to have the full Grove and game day experience, it’s important that the university take cues from schools around the country for COVID-19 protocols. Our public image is at stake, and we would hate to be portrayed as insensitive or ignorant about the pandemic.”
Oldham believes uncertain times with COVID-19 along with social issues cast a shadow over the football season.
“Twenty-percent capacity coupled with the recent controversy about our school’s history/confederate monuments has definitely put a damper on school spirit,” Oldham said. “It’s hard to support a school whose alumni/fans seem so dedicated to preserving the darkest part of our history.”
Other alumni have altered travel and season ticket plans due to the circumstances of this season.
“My family and I were so excited to come up from Madison for the Florida game being that my dad played for Florida and myself being an alumni, but we canceled our plans because we felt it was not worth it,” Ally Nichols, a 2020 graduate said.
Ticket sales and prices are much different this year and another big factor to consider for people contemplating attending a game.
“I have been a season ticket holder for the past 4 years. I did not attempt to get season tickets this year because I did not think it would be worth it,” Oldham said.
Football seasons is one of the biggest events that brings the Ole Miss community together, past and present.
“I think everyone, fellow alumni included, is super disappointed about the current situation surrounding football season,” Oldham said. “For many alumni, football games are the few times a year that they can get together with former classmates and visit old friends.”
“I was looking forward to visiting with friends and seeing what this new era of Ole Miss football will look like with our new coach, so it is a little disappointing,” Nichols said. “I am still glad I get to watch on TV and the athletes still get to play this season.”
The Rebels kick off at 11 a.m. on the morning of the 26th with fans eager to see how this season will play out. For the first time in years, the Grove will be free of game day tents and a sea of reds and blues, forcing Ole Miss fans and students to re-discover their gameday experience.
“I would love to go to the games,” Reardon said. “but I am perfectly fine sitting within ten steps to the bathroom and ten steps to the scotch.”