On Aug. 20, Gov. Tate Reeves issued an executive order that regulates how the upcoming college football season will be conducted within the state.
The order, among other things, restricts attendance at any college football game to a maximum of 25% of the stadium’s capacity, requires masks to be worn and prohibits tailgating outside of the events.
“This is the minimum that each school is required to do in their college stadiums this fall to keep our players and our spectators safe while allowing college football to occur,” Reeves said.
Reeves issued the order exactly two weeks before the Southern Miss Golden Eagles will begin the season versus the University of South Alabama.
“We wanted to put out the plans, give everyone some time to review and also to be able to implement them,” Reeves explained.
While the athletic department at Southern Miss is still finalizing its game day plans for the season, Director of Athletics Jeremy McClain describes the implications of the executive order.
“Obviously, we’ll have limited capacity and we’ll have to make a few adjustments there and unfortunately, probably have to tell some people who would like to come to the games that they can’t,” McClain said. “That’s not ever what we want to do but that’s the situation we find ourselves in.”
At the M.M. Roberts Stadium, the seating capacity is 36,000. With the new attendance cap, only 9,000 of those seats can be filled. McClain says that the school will follow closely around that percentage for its attendance policy.
“Our total is going to be between nine and ten thousand,” McClain said.
Last year, the average attendance for the five home football games at M.M. Roberts Stadium was 24,765. To ensure that fans will be able to fit in with the limited attendance this year, Southern Miss is giving priority to season ticket holders and students. Still, McClain says that there will have to be a limit on each group.
“We are going to have different numbers for the different groups,” McClain said. “To kind of fit into that space, there will be some limitations, so we’re going to try to make that number high enough that a lot of our students can get in but there might be some that would like to come to the game that don’t get the opportunity and hopefully if they don’t come to the first one, they’ll come to ones later in the year.”
For players, the loss of fans will be felt too. Junior defensive back Natrone Brooks says that it will be an adjustment.
“I think it’s going to play a role where you really don’t have fans to give you that extra boost,” Brooks said. “You’re really just going to have to fight yourself and push through without the crowd.”
The executive order impacts game day traditions at Southern Miss. The order bans any social gatherings outside of stadiums, meaning tailgates are out of the question.
The ban on tailgates comes as a blow to fans at Southern Miss. Hattiesburg resident Greg Busche has been tailgating with his family and friends at Southern Miss for the last twenty years. Busche says he understands the safety concern, but believes that tailgating could still be done safely.
“I think we need to have some form of tailgating with some stipulations to it as far as how many people could be to an assigned zone or area, kind of like what they’re doing with the stadium,” Busche said. “I don’t think we need to shut down tailgating completely because there are people like me that have been doing it religiously and never missed a game for twenty years.”
McClain says he is upset that fans will not be able to have the same experience, but agrees with the measure.
“I’m not happy that we won’t have the same game day experience, but I think it’s the right call,” McClain said. “I would just ask people to understand that if we’re going to have an opportunity to compete and play college athletics this fall, specifically football, in this case, these are the things we’re going to have to do.”
McClain says that the guidelines will come down to individual responsibility and asks for fans to comply.
“There’s some level of social responsibility that comes with this, so we’re going to ask people to do those things because we’re trying to get over the hump and trying to get back to the things we
love doing,” McClain said.
For more information and to stay updated on new Southern Miss game day policies, visit www.southernmiss.com.