Up to 3,000 fans will be allowed in Mizzou Arena Wednesday when the Missouri Tigers open their basketball season.
Who thought that was a good idea?
With COVID-19 cases surging like never before, health department officials are encouraging families to reduce their gatherings to 10 people or fewer. If a dozen family members couldn’t gather for Thanksgiving dinner last week, how on earth is it safe for 3,000 fans to attend a basketball game?
Mizzou has limited most university-sponsored events to 20 people. But when sports and revenue are involved, apparently those rules don’t apply.
Across the country, college basketball teams are already contending with coronavirus outbreaks, canceling and postponing games and contemplating how the season can be played safely. (Editor's note: MU's women's team has canceled its games until Dec. 13.) Some other high-profile programs have taken a more prudent approach, opening their seasons with no fans in the stands.
Duke University has announced that the Blue Devils will play in an empty Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Kansas Jayhawks will play at least their first two home basketball games without fans at Allen Fieldhouse.
Both schools, which consistently fill every available seat for every game, are making the right decision as they prioritize public health over ticket revenue.
KU officials have said they will continue to make attendance decisions on a week-by-week basis. But as COVID-19 cases continue to spike, it’s hard to see how allowing thousands of fans to congregate in an indoor space could be deemed safe anytime soon.
The first Border Showdown Rivalry scheduled in years between KU and MU this year at the Sprint Center has been called off due to public health concerns.
Still, MU is forging ahead with plans to allow fans to cheer on the Tigers. The 3,000 fans will fill only about 20% of Mizzou Arena, but even with social distancing, that is a highly unnecessary risk amid the uncontrolled spread of the coronavirus.
Many students on campus tested postitive
The Missouri athletic department has successfully hosted four football games and four volleyball games this fall, a senior athletic department official told The Star Editorial Board. So far, Tiger fans have complied with the safety guidelines established by the department.
“We will continue to monitor the situation within mid-Missouri and are prepared to pivot away from allowing fans at future contests if directed by campus and local health officials whom we have worked with since last summer in developing these safety plans,” MU officials wrote in an email.
As a state entity, MU is not required to abide by mandates issued by the Boone County Health Department. The university system takes its directives from the governor’s office.
Local health officials have not voiced concerns about allowing fans to attend basketball games.
“Mizzou has been a good partner,” a spokesperson for the Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services Department said. “We are in contact with them on a daily basis. We’ve worked together to promote safety.”
But COVID-19 cases in Boone County are increasing dramatically. Of the more than 10,255 cases recorded in Boone County this year, more than 2,200 of them were reported Nov. 9-22.
More than 700 cases are active, county data showed, as of Nov. 30. A new countywide mask mandate went into effect last Wednesday.
MU’s campus has contributed significantly to the outbreak. More than 2,400 MU students have tested positive since August, according to information provided to the university from Boone County health officials.
At least 36 faculty and 196 staff members have tested positive.
MU officials announced on Nov. 12 that students would shift to remote learning after Thanksgiving break.
So, it’s currently too dangerous to continue in-person classes, but a few thousand fans indoors for a basketball game sounds like a good idea? To think or hope that somehow, no one in the stands Nov. 25 at Mizzou Arena will have been infected with the coronavirus is pure folly.
MU’s decision looks like a dangerous and desperate play for revenue. And while many Tigers fans no doubt would love to leave their homes after months of lockdown and support their team, no one should be allowed to watch MU games in person until the coronavirus pandemic is contained.
This was originally published by The Kansas City Star on Nov. 25 and is reprinted with permission. Numbers about active cases in Boone County were updated on Dec. 1.