When the USF Bulls ran onto the field at Raymond James Stadium, it was business as usual. The team burst through a makeshift pen beneath a slew of pyrotechnics and smoke as music blared over the loudspeakers.
But, there was no roar from fans to greet them. When the announcer introduced the starting lineup and images of the team flashed across the Jumbotron, he did so to an empty stadium. There was no band on the field: Instead, they appeared over video as their music was pumped through the speakers.
Raymond James Stadium was empty as the Bulls won their opening game over The Citadel 27-6. While the stands were hauntingly devoid for the opener, that isn’t the plan going forward: USF plans to have fans in attendance for all of its remaining home games, including the vaunted “War on I-4” against UCF.
New USF head coach Jeff Scott, who received and ice bath for only his team to witness after his first Bulls win, said the Bulls would probably allow around 15,000 fans when they are let back into Raymond James.
“I would just encourage all of our fans that haven’t bought tickets yet for that Oct. 10 game (against Eastern Carolina) to go ahead and buy those tickets,” Scott said. “Whatever our maximum number for capacity is, that’s what I hope we’re able to have to this team.”
There’s just one problem: USF, like UF and so many other schools across the nation, hasn't presented a plan for who will get those seats.
Florida sent out an email on Aug. 27 to season ticket holders saying that seat availability would be determined by “Gator Booster Football club levels.” The email didn’t say anything about student tickets, however: In fact, students were not mentioned at all.
On Sept. 3, UF sent an email out explaining that attendance at The Swamp would be capped at about 17,000 people, or 20 percent capacity.
“While we continue to develop finalized ticketing and parking information, we plan to provide the specifics for ticketing and parking next week,” the email read.
But the next week came, and there were no specifics. It’s been 11 days since the email was sent out, and Florida students are still left wondering how — and if — they will be allowed into Ben Hill Griffin come the Gators’ home opener.
We are contacting season ticket holders with details next week with students soon after. At this point, unsure about availability after that.— Florida Gators (@FloridaGators) September 3, 2020
But what are other schools around the nation doing?
Florida State is also using a donor-based tier list for season-ticket-holder ticket priority. For boosters, there are two ticket packs for home games that contain different home games across the season: The highest donors can buy both ticket packs, and the opportunities descend from there. For the students, ticket priority is based on “class standing,” where seniors and graduate students get the most points and younger classes get fewer. Students have the opportunity to earn points through activities such as making tweets or posts on social media with official hashtags.
Texas Tech, meanwhile, initially gave priority to season ticket holders before opening sales to the public. Students are delegated to the lower bowl at Jones AT&T Stadium and can come in on a first-come, first-serve basis after paying a flat fee of $61.20 for the semester, according to Texas Tech’s ticket office.
These are a few of the options UF could pursue in getting students back into The Swamp. And while fans are eager to create at least a fraction of that college atmosphere, some players, like USF quarterback Jordan McCloud, are just happy to play football regardless of the attendance.
“Our last game was in November,” McCloud said after the game. “So to come back nine months later, fans or no fans — regardless, it was fun.”
Contact River Wells at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @riverhwells.