While other UT students spent last Black Friday with family before returning to campus after Thanksgiving break, Elena Edwards flew back to Austin early to catch Texas’ last home game of the 2019 football season.
Edwards’ flight into Austin that morning kept her from seeing the first quarter of Texas’ victory over Texas Tech, but the sociology and government junior said she ran through rain and fog to witness the remaining three.
As COVID-19 continues to spread throughout Texas, Edwards and other Longhorn superfans likely won’t get the UT football experience this year that they’ve relished in the past. While Gov. Greg Abbott has increased stadium capacity in the state to 50% from the initial 25% limit as a part of his Phase III reopening plan, questions remain about who will be allowed inside Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium this fall.
“If I wasn’t able to go (to games this fall), I’d be so upset,” Edwards said. “But I’d work my way around it because I’m such a die-hard fan.”
James Miller, a fourth-generation Longhorn who graduated in 2007, said he thinks UT students should receive priority seating over alumni and season ticket holders.
“If you’re reducing capacity and you want the home atmosphere to be there, why wouldn’t you reserve first come, first served to students?” Miller asked. “The team is for (the students) because the team is (students).”
Adding to the confusion, the Big Ticket, UT’s all-access student sports pass, went on sale June 9. Many students voiced concerns on social media, saying they are reluctant to shell out $175 without knowing if they will be allowed to attend sporting events in the fall. The Texas ticket office is currently working with medical experts on what social distancing procedures would look like in the various areas of the stadium, including the student section, said Drew Martin, Texas’ executive senior associate athletic director for external affairs.
“The ultimate goal is to accommodate as many fans as possible while maintaining as safe an environment as possible,” Martin said in an email.
Although University officials haven’t said how they plan to accommodate students, they believe all season ticket holders will fit into the stadium under a 50% capacity limit, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
Miller said he’d feel safe in a stadium at 50% capacity, especially while wearing a mask, but he’s nervous about the heat that will likely send groups of people into cramped concession spaces to buy water.
“If I could get on the phone with Chris Del Conte and be like, ‘This year only, can we all just bring water in?’” Miller said. “Because if I never had to leave my seat, I would feel so much better.”
Ryan Lepper, a UT 1999 alumnus and co-founder of the Horn-Ball Texas Tailgaters, said limited stadium capacity won’t stop the festivities that happen just outside of the stadium.
“I have a feeling that if there is a capacity limitation at the stadium, we’re just going to see more people at the tailgate,” Lepper said. “They’re gonna still want to be in the atmosphere.”
Edwards can recall the pride she felt after watching Texas win over Oklahoma in the stands at the Cotton Bowl when she was 15 and again in 2018 when she finally became a UT student. Though she’s still hopeful about the upcoming season, she said the thought of not being physically present for game days this fall is “devastating.”
“Football is just such an integral part of my experience here at UT,” Edwards said. “It would be kind of devastating to not be able to enjoy that.”