Athletics implements many safeguards, excitement builds for a successful season

Published: September 25, 2020
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From weekly COVID-19 tests to new protocols involving social distancing, mask wearing and the addition of many hand sanitizer stations and informational signage, Auburn Athletics is kicking off a 2020 season unlike any before it.

“Extraordinary measures have been taken really over the past six months so that the student-athletes could return safely to campus,” said Jeff Shearer, a communications assistant for Auburn Athletics, noting how student-athletes have adhered to mandatory face coverings and physical distancing while working out in small groups. “Our student-athletes have done a fantastic job of buying in and being disciplined and making the choices that will give them the best chance to compete this fall.”

Fall competition started this fall with the Auburn soccer team’s first match on the Plains this past week.

“It was our first Auburn event in more than six months, and attendance was limited like it will be for football,” Shearer said. “Fans were physically distanced throughout the soccer complex, and it was a pretty good preview of what we will see on a larger scale this week.”

In addition to many other safeguards, student-athletes will receive COVID-19 tests throughout the season.

“Under the direction of Auburn team physician Dr. Michael Goodlett and the SEC Return to Activity and Medical Guidance Task Force, student-athletes have been testing since they returned to campus to begin preparing to play, and now that they’re in competition there will be three tests per week for student-athletes,” Shearer said.

This Saturday ushers in a different type of football gameday experience, but officials say that even amid the new safety protocols excitement is building among the Auburn fan base as Auburn readies for its football season opener at home vs. Kentucky.

“There is a tremendous level of excitement,” said Shearer. “We say in the SEC that it just means more. Well, this season there’s going to be 10 conference Saturdays, and that’s going to be unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. So, while gameday itself is going to be different, there’s still tremendous optimism, enthusiasm and excitement about this season.”

Among the new additions to gameday will be 180 hand sanitizers throughout Jordan-Hare Stadium. Seating also will be spaced in groupings of four, two and one. The crowd makeup will be different as well.

“For the first game, it’s going to be primarily students who will be attending,” Shearer said, noting that those students will see new signs that remind them of mandatory masks, adhering to personal hygiene and standing six feet apart if in a line at the concession stand or if in the restroom, where every other sink will be accessible. “To ensure an orderly ingress and egress, there will be assigned gates and entry times where students should be arriving, and that will limit their exposure to other students and other people in a way that makes for physical distancing.”

Changes have likewise been made for the process of admission to the game and concessions transactions.

“Concessions and entry will be contactless, so no tickets to tear, no cash at the concession stands, credit cards will be self-swipe,” Shearer said, adding that in addition to that “The Auburn University ‘Clean Team’ will regularly disinfect all high-touch surfaces and common areas.”

The new protocols extend to the field.

“The sidelines at an SEC football game at Jordan-Hare Stadium in the past have been pretty crowded with a lot of media, photographers. A lot of that is going to be significantly reduced. The sidelines themselves have been expanded to allow the players on both teams to be physically distanced,” Shearer said, noting that players will stretch in between each 15 yard line marker—an additional 10 yards further out on either side beyond what had been the norm in past years.

Several gameday traditions will change as well.

“One of the things that is so great about an Auburn football Saturday is the traditions. They really are unparalleled, but this year a lot of those things are going to have to be on pause,” he said. “So, no tailgating—that’s a big one. Tiger Walk will not take place this year. The SEC had a directive that prevented live mascots from being on the field, so the eagle flight will not take place. The band will be there, but they will just remain in the stands. The cheerleaders will be in the stands as well.

“So, it’s going to look a little bit different, but it will still be, we hope, a wonderful memory making experience for our students who will be attending.”

Shearer said that amid the unprecedented circumstances, it has been impressive to see the resilience of the student-athletes.

“They’ve had to make sacrifices and give up the way of life that all of us knew before the middle of March,” he said. “Our students, especially, have had to be tremendously disciplined, which (Head Football Coach Gus) Malzahn calls it ‘COVID-19 etiquette.’ And that’s just being very mindful all the time of who you are by and how close you are and what close contact you have just so you can protect yourself and your teammates and give yourself a chance to play this season for the Auburn Tigers.”

Shearer said it all speaks to a unified effort throughout campus and a strong commitment to the fulfillment of a successful fall sports season.

“All across this campus, extraordinary steps have been taken to make A Healthier U, and this Saturday, we’re hoping it’s A Healthier W, as in win, for the Auburn Tigers.”

Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification, life-changing outreach with Carnegie’s Community Engagement designation and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn’s commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact.