OU football: Joe Castiglione says fans will be required to wear masks at Sooners games
NORMAN — Joe Castiglione has had doubts, he admitted Friday, that a college football season could happen this fall.
“I’m human,” the OU athletic director said during a Zoom conference with reporters when asked how many times he’d gone back and forth between believing a season could be played and that it would be wiped out due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. “It’s been the primary thing on my mind. It just depends how and where we’re getting information.”
Castiglione has listened to national experts like doctors Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx, local ones like OU chief COVID officer Dale Bratzler and team physician Brock Schnebel and plenty of people in between.
For now, Castiglione believes that OU — and the Big 12 — can move forward safely with the season and that the Sooners can even have some fans in the stands.
None of those things are set in stone, though.
“We have to be flexible,” Castiglione said. “We have to be nimble, just like with issues around our players. Something that might develop might cause us to pivot to stopping practice or maybe not even having a game or a season. All that is still ahead of us.
“All the things we are trying to do is manage it the best we can so we can have it.”
OU’s players returned to campus Friday, six days after preseason camp was paused and they were allowed to go home.
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The return-to-practice protocol would be the same as then the players reported back to campus for the July 1 beginning of offseason workouts, Castiglione said. That includes a negative COVID-19 test before being allowed to practice or return to the football facility.
After the initial round of intake testing, the Sooners hadn’t had a player or staffer test positive until last week, when one player tested positive prior to the players being sent home.
The general student population began returning to campus this week ahead of the Aug. 24 beginning of classes.
That return figures to enhance the chance of positive tests among football players.
Castiglione said the administration and football staff has preached the importance of staying vigilant, pointing to outbreaks in other sports and among other teams and the lessons learned from learning about how those originated.
“There’s going to be that time, and we understand there’ll be opportunities, there’ll be chances to socialize,” Castiglione said. “They haven’t seen each other for months and months and months. That’s unusual.
“We’re just going to have to be as disciplined as we can.”
Castiglione had said before that fans, if allowed at games this season, would be required to wear masks. Friday, he reiterated that stance for the first time since Wednesday’s announcement that OU planned to allow the stadium to be 25 percent of capacity in 2020.
“That’s just the way it’s going to be,” Castiglione said. “I understand that might not be what people want to do. I respect that. I respect the fact they don’t want to go again and wear a mask. But if you’re going to come to a game at Oklahoma, it’s going to be a requirement. And so, just ask you to accept (that). If you don’t want to accept that, then you probably should make the decision not to come to the game and there’s just not going to be any argument about that.”
Keeping the spread of the virus down, both internally and externally and both in the month leading up to the season-opener and beyond, will be a key to successfully pulling off this season and having fans in the stands.
“The season, while still on our radar screen, is not a guarantee,” Castiglione said. “It’s not a given.”