Big Ten votes to start football season in late October

In a somewhat stunning reversal, the Big Ten conference Wednesday had a unanimous vote from chancellors and presidents to start its football season the weekend of Oct. 23, after first suspending the season on Aug. 11, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

While the Big Ten cited improved medical testing and screening as part of the reason why it reversed its earlier decision, reporting from Sportico notes that both political and economic pressure may have played a role in the decision, which comes even as Covid-19 cases continue to occur nationwide.

The start of other Power 5 conference seasons this past weekend may also have played a role in the Big Ten’s decision, even as those schools had poor compliance by fans to Covid-19 safety protocols for stadium attendance. So far, there have been no reports on whether or not Big Ten schools will allow fans to attend games, but most likely some will have limited-attendance plans to try to recoup some of the lost game-day revenue.

The Pac-12, which suspended its season the day after the Big Ten did, recently signed a deal for improved Covid-19 testing, which in recent reports suggest that at the very least the conference should be able to start basketball season sooner rather than later.

Weekend update: Some college football fans seem to ignore Covid-19 precautions

Well, the first “real” weekend of limited-audience experiments in college and pro football is now in the books, and from a fan-compliance standpoint, it is still very much a work in progress. While Mobile Sports Report wasn’t able to be at any of the games live, we did try to keep a finger on the pulse of what was happening via news reports and Twitter posts, the latter of course are always subject to the caveat that sometimes we simply can’t verify the validity of the posts.

But from corroborations on social media and from news reports, it was pretty obvious that at certain venues — especially Florida State and Oklahoma — fans, especially college students, were simply not adhering to the Covid-19 precautions put in place by the venues that were allowing fans to attend.

Since the Florida State game (a 16-13 loss to Georgia Tech) was on national TV on ABC, it was pretty easy for anyone to see that many in the limited-attendance crowd were not paying any attention to rules about masks and social distancing. The Tallahassee Democrat ran a story about the national reaction to the fans, and got this quote from FSU athletic director David Coburn:

“We were disappointed with some fans, particularly some student fans, at the Georgia Tech football game who did not comply with our policies regarding social distancing and wearing masks while in their seats,” FSU Athletic Director David Coburn said Sunday in a statement to the Democrat. “There was ample room for all fans to remain safely distanced. We have three weeks until our next home game, and we will re-double our efforts to both inform our patrons and improve compliance with the new rules.”

The bigger question that goes unanswered, of course, is why there was no attempt to enforce the Covid-19 rules.

Some similar behavior was on display at Oklahoma, where students also seemed to ignore Covid-19 precautions once inside the stadium. A story in the OU Daily has a photograph showing students massing close together, with minimal mask wearing. Though OU had protocols in place — like distance markers at concession stands — an attendee at the game noted that while “many followed the protocols a significant number [of fans] did not.”

Socially distanced fans (and band) at Notre Dame’s home opener. (Screen shot from NBC broadcast)

Notre Dame, on the other hand, seemed to have a better amount of buy-in from students on Covid-19 safety procedures. From what we could tell by watching the NBC broadcast of the Irish’s win over Duke, students (and the band) seemed to be complying well with social distancing in the stands and the wearing of masks.

Were the pro games better?

Two of the NFL games this weekend, including the Thursday night season opener in Kansas City, also allowed a limited number of fans, and as far as we can tell (from tracking Twitter and news reports) fans at those games largely followed the extensive procedures put in place ahead of the games. The Jacksonville Jaguars, who beat the Indianapolis Colts 27-20 in their home opener, had a full web page that described what fans needed to do to help keep everyone safe. With no reports of bad fan behavior in Jacksonville we are assuming most of the fans in attendance complied with the rules.

And while fans at the Kansas City Chiefs’ home opener may have earned some national derision for booing the players’ pregame solidarity moment, from what we could tell it looked like fans in the seats were staying apart and masked. Thanks to the Twitter feed of Tom Proebstle for his posts from Arrowhead.

Montreal Impact picks Aruba for new Wi-Fi network at Saputo Stadium

When fans are allowed back into Saputo Stadium, home of Major League Soccer’s Montreal Impact, at some future point they will be able to connect to a new Wi-Fi network using gear from Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company.

The ongoing deployment, announced today in a press release, will use approximately 250 802.11ac Wave 2 (aka Wi-Fi 5) APs to cover the 19,000-plus seat venue, according to Aruba. In the metal-framed sections of the venue, Aruba said 128 of the APs will be deployed in an under-seat enclosure.

“Though the pandemic has caused us to have to delay the start of our home game play this year, engaging with fans and allowing them to share their experiences with each other and via social media is still one of the main hallmarks of the in-stadium experience,” said Roger Miron, IT director for Saputo Stadium, in a prepared statement. “Implementing a reliable, high performing Wi-Fi network is the first step in our multi-phase initiative to enable extraordinary experiences, as well as improve our own stadium operations.”

According to the release, Saputo Stadium is working with Canadian telecom partner Vidéotron to deploy Aruba access points, mobility controllers and Aruba core and access switches, as well as Aruba’s Airwave network management system. In addition to fan-facing Internet access, the Impact and Saputo will look to use the new network to power new types of concession features, including mobile ordering, and will also look to debut a stadium app with mobile ticketing capability.

Kentucky Derby to run without fans

Reversing course from several previously planned options to include fans at this year’s race, the Kentucky Derby announced that the Sept. 5 event will now be held without fans, due to safety concerns over the Covid-19 pandemic.

“With the current significant increases in COVID-19 cases in Louisville as well as across the region, we needed to again revisit our planning,” the race said in a prepared statement. “We have made the difficult decision to hold this year’s Kentucky Derby on September 5 without fans. Churchill Downs and all of our team members feel strongly that it is our collective responsibility as citizens of Louisville to do all we responsibly can to protect the health, safety and security of our community in these challenging times and believe that running the Derby without spectators is the best way to do that. We deeply regret the disappointment this will bring to our loyal fans.”

According to the Derby, the Kentucky Oaks race will still be held on Friday, Sept. 4, and NBC will show both the Oaks (3-6 p.m. Eastern time) and the Derby and its undercard races (2:30 – 7:30 p.m. Eastern time) on TV.

Prior to being rescheduled from its traditional May date due to the pandemic, Mobile Sports Report had heard several strategies for bringing more connectivity to the sprawling grounds of Churchill Downs, where DAS improvements over the years have kept pace with the ever-growing demand for more mobile bandwidth from fans at bucket-list events. Now we will have to wait until 2021 at least to see if Churchill Downs adds in more wireless capacity, especially on the Wi-Fi side.

Pac-12 suspends all sports through end of 2020

Following closely on the heels of the Big Ten, the Pac-12 conference Tuesday suspended all sports through the end of 2020, due to the ongoing complications of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“All of the Pac-12 presidents and chancellors understand the importance of this decision, and the disappointment it will create for our student-athletes, the coaches, support staff and all of our fans,” said Michael H. Schill, president of the University of Oregon, in a statement on the conference website. “Ultimately, our decision was guided by science and a deep commitment to the health and welfare of student-athletes. We certainly hope that the Pac-12 will be able to return to competition in the New Year.”

Big Ten postpones fall sports, including football, due to Covid-19 pandemic

The seemingly inevitable became fact Tuesday, when the Big Ten conference announced it was postponing all fall sports, including football, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The mental and physical health and welfare of our student-athletes has been at the center of every decision we have made regarding the ability to proceed forward,” said Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren in the statement posted on the conference website. “As time progressed and after hours of discussion with our Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee, it became abundantly clear that there was too much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow our student-athletes to compete this fall.”

The next question is whether or not other college conferences and schools will follow suit; rumors had surfaced Monday that the Pac-12 was set to make a similar announcement.