King: Football distancing won’t come easy

King: Football distancing won’t come easy

LITTLE ROCK — Specifics of how many and who at Arkansas home football games is a guessing game and pursuit of answers is as wearying as hitting golf balls for the first time in almost a year.

A big difference — the recent driving range session barely lasted 30 minutes while getting a handle on particulars for the UA season opener began days ago and figures to continue for weeks.

Even the basics for Sept. 5 vs. Nevada are not simple.

For example, a few portable stadium seats side by side figured to help illustrate six feet of social distancing, so the apparatus with appropriate high school nickname on the back was measured at 21 inches from arm rest to arm rest. Later Friday, a glimpse of seating at a White House briefing shot down the idea that separation would be easy and involve independent rows.

Reporters on the same row had multiple empty chairs between them, and nobody sat directly behind the person in the row a couple of feet in front of them. Row after row of seats in Fayetteville are separated by inches and staggering fans so that no one is within 72 inches of another means arranging an alignment with few people on any particular row.

Before anything else, Arkansas must establish the maximum attendance at 76,412-seat capacity Razorback Stadium and appropriate preparation has included discussions of seating details and ticket distribution for various possibilities.

For example, if half capacity is the rule, seating will be arranged for around 38,000; at one-third capacity, decision-makers would have to cut out about 13,000 people.

It makes sense that an every-game staple would be folks in the club suites and the 38 suites added in the recent renovation raised the total to 172. A seven-year commitment was required, along with a hefty donation per seat, and the suites accommodate as many as 30, including six standing room only tickets, but that does not mean capacity will be allowed.

Same as with a living room, the suites are private, so social distancing and mask-wearing fall under the purview of the owner.

Simply to reach a starting point, say attendance per suite averages about 15, so subtract 2,500 from the total allowed. Next, set aside tickets for the visiting team — a total that should be less than normal because the opponent’s band and cheerleaders are unlikely to travel. Before moving on to the impossible task of which season-ticket holders get tickets and which ones don’t, remove tickets for members of the families of the UA athletes from the pool.

Next, creativity and diplomacy are at a premium.

In addition to adding suites, the renovation created 80 loge boxes, some with four seats; some with eight, at $4,000 per seat.

Do those ticket holders get priority over the loyalists who began contributing to the Razorback Foundation 35 years ago or so? They enjoyed Ken Hatfield’s years; persevered through Jack Crowe and the move to the SEC under Joe Kines and Danny Ford; were both happy and frustrated during Houston Nutt’s 10 years; reveled in double-digit wins in back to back seasons of Bobby Petrino and had mixed feelings about his dismissal; then continued writing checks while the Razorbacks won only 13 SEC games in eight seasons under John L. Smith, Bret Bielema and Chad Morris.

Do bigger donors, some of whom may be new, go to the front of the line, ahead of the long-time faithful?

Imagine dealing with these circumstances:

—A family that had tickets near the 40-yard line 15 rows up in Section 104 on the West side for years is told their seats for the Nevada game are in Section 504 in the upper deck.

—How about the friends who sat near each other for years? But, this time around, one group is eligible for tickets and their pals are not.

—Or what about the UA grad that was family-first with the budget for a few years, but received a promotion, joined the Foundation, bought season tickets, and is empty-handed?

—Or the long-time football fan new to the area as an employee of Tyson or Wal-Mart or J.B. Hunt and has heard so much about the “Woo Pig Sooie” thing?

Potential sticky situations are endless and, although most people will realize the 2020 season is likely an anomaly, some are bound to be unhappy.

By the way, those who have tickets may not be allowed to arrive at their own leisure. To avoid crowds lining up to enter the stadium, fans could be assigned a time of arrival, maybe enter through one gate and exit through another.

Miami Dolphins president Tom Garfinkel put it this way: “We would exit the stadium much like a church environment, where each row exits so people aren’t filing out all at the same time in a herd.”

Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, a set of clubs and carry bag might soon be for sale cheap, with two new gloves and a half-dozen Titleists still in the box, to sweeten the deal.

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