West Virginia and Florida State are scheduled to meet in Atlanta to open the season on Labor Day Weekend as part of the Chick-fil-A Kickoff. That game is highly unlikely, according to reports, and a source close to the situation.
I am writing this from my apartment in North Atlanta, very sadly.
With the SEC, ACC and Big 12 Conference working to find a solution to the problem of playing football—or any college sport—during the COVID-19 pandemic, the celebration of football may not be able to wait for the conferences to make a decision.
The three-game weekend was set to bring in nearly $100 million in economic impact, according to Peach Bowl CEO Gary Stokan in an interview with ESPN.
According to a source inside one the organizing groups, a decision on the three opening weekend games will likely need to be made by Friday, July 24, and it doesn’t look good. West Virginia-Florida State, Georgia-Virginia and Auburn-North Carolina feature schools that are not in Atlanta and would require significant travel for four of the six participants.
The source said, in short, the games will not happen at Mercedes-Benz Stadium if fans are not present and those chances do not look good. However, there seem to be plans for the venue to host events at reduced capacities.
The source wishes to remain anonymous as this is a sensitive issue that has multiple decision-makers, not solely their organization.
Local Atlanta sports-talk radio host Sandra Golden reported that Stokan said his committee and Mercedes-Benz Stadium have plans for reduced capacity and confirmed that fans must be allowed to make the weekend a reality.
In an email to season-ticket holders this week, the Atlanta Falcons stated that limited seating capacity would be available for games this season, and gave season-ticket holders options to recoup their money for this season or roll it over to 2021. The options pointed to the number of fans in attendance would be significantly lower than the number of season-ticket holders.
Slightly conversely, fans of the MLS franchise Atlanta United FC have not been told what the plans for the rest of the season is, but the league has stated it does want to play in home markets. However, full capacities are unlikely, according to unverified takes of commentators for the league.
Currently, NASCAR and USL Championship (soccer) allow fans at their events at severely limited capacities (30 percent or less).
ESPN also reported that the Falcons are preparing for games to allow between 10,000-20,000 fans inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The retractable-roof stadium holds 71,000 at normal capacity, so 30 percent capacity would be 21,300 fans.
Regardless of the capacity, NFL fans will be required to wear face masks at games this season. According to the report, stadiums will likely need to reduce capacity by 30 percent, as six feet of distance is about three stadium seats. In addition, rows closest to the field will also be off-limits to fans.
Even if the conferences were to allow for a plus-one game in its members’ schedules, it’s unlikely the schools playing in these season openers would want to use these matchups when two of the four have in-state rivals from opposing conferences. That could leave Auburn, Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina to figure out games between themselves but, even then, it’s unlikely those games would happen in Atlanta due to severely reduced capacity.
A reduced-capacity plan leaves some wiggle room for the teams to play, but it’s highly unlikely the Peach Bowl committee and the universities involved would settle for such a pay cut.
As the adage goes, the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. What was going to be three straight days of college football in Atlanta—a first for the Chick-fil-A Kickoff—may end up falling to COVID-19.