Oklahoma State players are excited to be among one of the few teams still getting to play football this fall, but they also understand that it still won’t be quite the same as in year’s past.
They have already had to deal with a delay to the season opener against Tulsa – after the original season opener against Oregon State was canceled when the Pac-12 Conference followed the Big Ten in canceling fall football.
But they are also preparing for change in the game-day atmosphere that has made college football the most popular event in small communities across the country.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic which has altered the schedule multiple times already, Oklahoma State – along with the rest of the Big 12 Conference – will limit the amount of fans that can filter into Boone Pickens Stadium for home games.
OSU followed a similar model to most of the league in drawing the limit to around 25 percent of the stadium’s capacity. The traditional capacity for Boone Pickens Stadium is 55,509, which translates to just under 14,000 fans in the stands – with a mix of students and season ticket holders, with priority going to those who have accumulated POSSE Points, which are garnered by years of ticket purchases among all sports.
“That’s gonna be a tough thing I think guys aren’t really used to kind of playing without all the fans being there,” senior receiver Tylan Wallace said. “For me, that brings you back to my high school days where maybe not so many fans are out here cheering for you and everything. So the noise and everything on the field is gonna be a lot different, but I think we’re just going to have to be able to adjust. I mean, like that’s what this whole year is really about, just kind of being able to adjust on the go and just go out there and play football.”
It’s not just a limitation within the stands that will be different in Boone Pickens Stadium.
From a player standpoint, there won’t be extra on-field fanfare of a typical football game. There won’t be cheerleaders or Pom squad, nor will there be the traditional ROTC group doing push-ups to match the point total of the Cowboys following touchdowns.
With students being included in the group of fans permitted in the stadium, there will be one tradition still alive – though still expected to be slightly different.
The Paddle People, which could create so much havoc that Texas forced the Big 12 Conference to initiate a rule that prohibited the use noise-makers leading up to the offensive snap, will count toward the 2,500 students allowed into the stadium. But it’s possible they may have to adhere to the same social distancing policies put in place around the stadium for season ticket holders.
Fans will also be mandated to wear masks in the stadium – which could muffle even more the already limited crowd noise.
And there is a plan to have a band, though it is not expected to be the large number that typically fills up much of the section behind the west end zone field goal.
“When I first heard about it, I got a little bummed, because the atmosphere that the crowd creates – the excitement, the noise – the defense feeds off of stuff like that,” redshirt junior safety Tre Sterling said. “So, I wasn’t too happy about it.”
Though it won’t be at capacity, once the players started to see the chair backs place throughout the stadium, the concern about what 14,000 fans – and an atmosphere with a quarter of that they are used to – seem to wane for some players.
“They started putting seats in the stadium, and they had done just one corner that was posted on Twitter, and I after looking at it, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be,” Sterling said. “I still think there will be enough noise and stuff to create a type of environment that the defense wants, but you know, if it’s not there – if we don’t get a packed up game – we have to try to create for ourselves.
“We’ve been trying to do that during practice, so we’ve been practicing for it kind of, I guess you can say. We just anticipated this, so we do it during practice all the time and doing scrimmages when nobody is in the stands. So 13,000 will help.”
Playing in front of a small crowd may not be too much of a shock for most of the veteran-laden players, any way.
Two years ago, when traveling to play Big 12 cellar dweller Kansas, the reported attendance for that contest was a generous 18,364.
The Cowboys won that contest, with Taylor Cornelius under center, by 20 points – a 48-28 blowout with very little cheering throughout.