College football is so much more than just the sport itself. Tailgates, marching bands and traditions rich with history give the game its allure.
Under normal circumstances, the pomp and circumstance surrounding a game act as the lifeblood of Big Ten college towns across the Midwest. This year, however, a game at Michigan Stadium will sound more like a dog-whistle convention and less like the annual Ann Arbor wailing fest over a loss to Ohio State after the conference announced there would be no public sale of tickets at any games this year, though like anything, that decision could be revisited.
For now, though, Big Ten teams are going to need to adjust to the new reality. Some are better prepared than others. Northwestern, for one, has been training for football’s version of a silent disco headphone party ever since that glorious Rose Bowl run in 1995.
Jason Wright, former Wildcat and current Washington Football Team president, was asked on Barstool’s Pardon My Take Podcast why he believes that Ryan Field, home of the Wildcats, is the greatest home-field advantage in the country.
“Maybe the students aren’t there as early, but it’s because they’re about to become world leaders and CEOs and had a little bit of studying to do,” Wright said. “I’m good with that. Good tradeoffs.”
Host Dan Katz, better known as Barstool Big Cat, said, “There are teams who have players who played high school football in Texas in front of bigger crowds than Ryan Field at 11 o’clock. When Wisconsin’s schedule comes out, you know Ohio State is going to be tough. But an 11 o’clock game in Evanston is when Northwestern catches teams sleeping.”
That’s far from the truth at many other Big Ten schools. Think about Madison, Wisconsin. Consistently voted one of the nation’s best college towns, its football identity in the fall is unmistakable. The weather is crisp, Badger red is everywhere, and the entire community buzzes with excitement.
This year, they will not play “Jump Around” at the end of the third quarter at Camp Randall Stadium (well, maybe they will, but it will hardly be the same). In Minneapolis, the student section at TCF Bank Stadium will sit empty with nobody to row P.J. Fleck’s boat. In Iowa City, the tradition of waving to children across the street at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital will need to take a year off.
But ask a student in Bloomington, Indiana, about the lack of fans in the football stadium, and they’ll proceed to tell you all about the history of Assembly Hall. In Champaign, they’ll tell you about the computer science behind the video board. In Piscataway, they’ll tell you about pizza and Chris Christie.
Undoubtedly, though, players say they thrive off the crowd atmosphere.
“The biggest difference is the fans,” said Northwestern cornerback Greg Newsome II. “That’s what we’re going to miss the most, having that energy, having that edge.”
Each Big Ten team will be affected differently by the restrictions on fans. Some will thrive, and some will struggle. We may get a clearer idea of who the best teams are when you take out stadium environments and focus simply on X’s and O’s. But the important thing is that we get football — a concept which seemed next to impossible just a few weeks ago.