The all-clear has been given. Public health officials say it’s safe to go back to the Rose Bowl. Fans are free once again to paint their faces blue and gold, put on their favorite player’s jersey and watch UCLA football games.
It’s a hypothetical scenario that has some Bruins fans raring to get back into their seats and others wary of the risks that could come with resuming a treasured ritual even with a pandemic on the wane.
But at some point the Bruins will play football again in front of their home fans, and John Marrone intends to be there.
“I would have no problem going to watch a game when the season starts,” said Marrone, a financial consultant who has held UCLA season tickets since the team played its home games at the Coliseum.
That could be in a matter of months — or sometime in 2021. The Bruins’ season is scheduled to start Aug. 29 at the Rose Bowl against New Mexico State, but it seems difficult to envision that game being played on time — much less in front of tens of thousands of fans — given the slew of current restrictions amid the novel coronavirus outbreak that include a ban on large gatherings.
Pac-12 Conference Commissioner Larry Scott recently told LightShed Live that college football would take its cue from the NFL, starting sometime after its professional counterpart had executed a successful launch of its season.
“That will be an early marker for us,” Scott said of the NFL’s resumption of play. “We’re hopeful that it will be close to on time.”
Marrone said he would happily go back to the Rose Bowl when allowed to do so even though, at 63, he’s among the group considered at higher risk of serious complications from COVID-19. He pointed to his fitness level and lack of underlying health issues as reasons he would not be putting himself in increased jeopardy.
That’s not to say that Marrone wouldn’t take precautions. He said he would wear a mask or a bandanna to cover his face, fill his pockets with hand sanitizer packets and avoid the athletic donor tailgate that has been held inside a tent in previous years.
Proper spacing inside a stadium that seats 80,616 for UCLA games shouldn’t be a huge issue. The Bruins averaged only 43,849 fans per game last season at the Rose Bowl, the lowest figure since first calling the stadium home in 1982.
“There was natural social distancing going on throughout the season last year,” Marrone quipped, “and it became even greater than six feet as the season progressed.”
Former season ticket-holder J.P. LeClercq said he would go back within a week or two of fans being allowed inside the Rose Bowl, provided the Bruins fielded a competitive team worth watching. He said he would tailgate with his pit barbecue as usual provided everyone respected each other’s personal space.
“I’m not going to be talking to someone with my hand around their shoulder like I would ordinarily if I’d had a couple of beers,” LeClercq said, “but I’d feel comfortable as long as I’m not in a confined space with someone like in an elevator.”
LeClercq said his biggest worry would be fans seated nearby cheering wildly, aerosolizing droplets from their nose and mouth that could pass the virus to others, but he would counter that threat by wearing a mask and washing his hands thoroughly.
Gov. Gavin Newsom presented a four-phase plan this week to ease the state’s shutdown order. Sporting events and concerts with live audiences were listed in the last phase.
Dr. Robert Kim-Farley, a UCLA Fielding School of Public Health epidemiologist and infectious disease expert, said the potential for another wave of infections is greater the larger the crowd.
Capacities could be limited to lower the risk, venues could institute temperature checks to help minimize the spread of the virus and the use of cloth face coverings would continue, Kim-Farley said. The hazard of tight quarters inside Rose Bowl tunnels that link the concourse to seating areas could be reduced by making the tunnels one-way.
Kim-Farley said one factor that would have to be closely monitored is the level of the virus’ community transmission, which would need to be not just flattening but on a considerable downswing before fans could be allowed near one another. And there may be the need to restrict a rival fan base arriving from an area of the country that remained a hotspot for virus transmission.
Steve Prince, a former longtime season ticket-holder and the father of onetime UCLA quarterback Kevin Prince, said he wouldn’t come back to the Rose Bowl until there’s a vaccine or fans were required to space out like reporters stationed several seats apart at a White House briefing.
“If I weren’t sure that the virus was totally under control 100%,” Steve Prince said, “I wouldn’t feel very comfortable sitting there.”
Others such as die-hard fan George Villafuerte, who has missed only one UCLA home game in the last 71 years, say they will be back as soon as the gates open to the public.
“Of course,” Villafuerte, who will turn 93 in October, said when asked if he would be comfortable coming back. “I’m a Bruin and I want to see all the games.”