The Best Fan Experience: An Empty Kinnick

By HaydensDumplings on July 21, 2020 at 2:30 pm
Kinnick Stadium
© Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Well, at least Kinnick is next to UIHC.

While the coronavirus surges (according to the New York Times, coronavirus cases are increasing in 39 states—including Iowa), athletic directors Gary Barta and Jamie Pollard are (currently) preparing to welcome college football fans into Kinnick and Jack Trice this fall. While I understand the economic impact of an abbreviated, delayed, and/or cancelled college football season on athletic department budgets, it is irresponsible to open Kinnick or Jack Trice to fans this season. Public health should supersede pigskin.

The coronavirus has killed 140,000 Americans (essentially wiping Cedar Rapids off the map). While the death toll surges, there is a nonchalance among Americans about wearing masks. In our politicized environment, wearing a mask has become the latest culture war. I am perplexed how wearing a mask is controversial, particularly as the death toll climbs into the tens of thousands.

Even more disconcerting for this Hawkeye: As the death toll mounts, Iowa has adopted a laissez faire attitude toward requiring masks. Iowa, Montana, and South Dakota are the three states without a mask requirement. I mean, even Alabama and Mississippi, not exactly bastions of public health, have adopted more stringent mask guidelines than our humble state.

It doesn’t take Dr. Fauci to recognize that no mask requirements plus thousands of inebriated fans equals a public health crisis at Kinnick (or Jack Trice) this fall. Assuming Iowa aims for 15% to 20% capacity (per  Chad Leistikow’s estimate), that would mean, give or take, 14,000 Hawkeye fans inside Kinnick this fall. Meanwhile, there could be 30,000 cheering Ronald McDonalds at Trice this fall. Good news, Iowa State fans, it may only take five wins this year for bowl eligibility but I digress.

As our state battles a once-a-century pandemic, that means 40,000 plus football fans (with varying levels of inebriation) could inhabit our two Power Five stadiums multiple times this fall. While wearing masks will likely be encouraged at Kinnick and Jack Trice, Iowa’s political leadership (paging Governor Reynolds) has taken a decidedly hands-off approach to requiring masks. And among Iowans, mask-wearing is sporadic at best; this New York Times interactive map highlights Iowans’ general ambivalence toward wearing masks. Not great, Bob.

Putting it bluntly, an open Kinnick and Jack Trice is a public health disaster waiting to happen. Start off with Iowans’ ambivalence to wearing masks, add football fans shrieking at (Ferentz play calling, the zebras, all things Wisconsin), sprinkle in tailgating revelry, add university students’ sense of invincibility, and, voila, you have the recipe for coronavirus spread. And, sure, Iowa and Iowa State will take precautions; both athletic departments will urge social distancing and, I suspect, strategically place hand sanitizers throughout Kinnick and Jack Trice. There will be Per Mar security guards limiting bathroom access to a certain number of fans. And while these preventative measures are fine and good, they miss the fundamental issue: When you have thousands upon thousands of fans in a confined space (even outdoors) cheering (or cursing) their favorite team without masks, coronavirus cases will spike. 

Iowa’s demographic realities should also give pause to opening Kinnick and Trice this fall. There are over 500,000 seniors in our state; those 65 and over comprise almost 20% of the state’s population. And while coronavirus effects are unpredictable, seniors disproportionately die from corona complications. A worst case (and entirely plausible scenario): After delivering a(nother) #FROSTWARNING to the Huskers in Kinnick, infected UI students return home to celebrate Thanksgiving, transmitting the 'rona to parents and grandparents at heightened levels of risk.

My recommendation to Barta and Pollard: if football is played this fall, prohibit fans from attending games. It is disappointing to lose home football revenue but, for the Iowa athletic department, the real money comes from television deals. And for the Big Ten (which isn't exactly cash-strapped), there is an opportunity to negotiate a new TV deal in 2023. This Athletic graph predicts that BIG members could average $89 million per year by 2029, almost doubling the current $51 million member distribution. Paraphrasing Latrell Sprewell, Barta will have enough to feed the Iowa Hawkeye athletic family, COVID or not. 

Kinnick night games are electric, a “you were there!” experience that binds generations of Hawkeye fans. But as much as I revel in Keith Duncan walk-off slides, my personal entertainment isn’t worth sacrificing my health or that of my fellow Hawkeye fans/Iowans. If attending home football games are the latest casualty, well, that is preferable than adding to the 140,000 Americans already lost to the coronavirus.  

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