OU's Sooner Schooner will run on field as football gameday traditions remain in new ways: 'We feel like we can safely do that'
NORMAN — Even as the COVID-19 pandemic forced nearly daily challenges, Drew Gaschler had one goal the past few months.
Safely preserve as many Oklahoma gameday traditions as possible.
The Sooner Schooner. The Pride of Oklahoma marching band. The spirit squads.
A Sooners gameday needs them all.
“The most important thing for us is the safety of the students and the safety of the student-athletes,” said Gaschler, OU’s director of marketing for fan experience. “We still want them to be involved in gameday, but the best thing we can do for everybody is making sure we’re putting everybody in a position that can still be safe.
“That’s led to some decisions where we have to bring back the number of students we have involved in gamedays in the past. Those are hard decisions.”
In a year like no other, the Sooners’ opening game against Missouri State is set for 6 p.m. Saturday on pay-per-view. It’s then that a limited amount of fans — less than 23,000 — will enter Gaylord Family—Oklahoma Memorial Stadium to a new experience.
They’ll have extra space due to social distancing. They’ll have a new digital seat tag that unlocks a plethora of new interactive options on their phone.
- Related to this story
- Article: OU football: Depth chart released, questions and answers
- Article: OU football: Brendan Radley-Hiles learns from Peach Bowl ejection
- Article: OU football: Alex Grinch wants players to create own energy with less fans in stadium
- Article: 'A pretty good compromise': OU football fan honors late father with cardboard cutout instead of spreading ashes at Sooners' stadium
- Article: Bears haven't made I-AA playoffs since 1990
- Article: Carlson: Why 5,000 OU football season-ticket holders didn't get seats — and why it's a total bummer
- Article: OU football: Merv Johnson announces retirement from Sooners' radio booth
- Article: OU football: Missouri State president says game 'was in serious jeopardy' until Friday's test results
- Article: 3-2-1 Kickoff: Counting down to OU football vs. Missouri State
- Article: No. 5 OU vs. Missouri State football: Kickoff time, betting odds, matchup breakdown
- Article: Tramel: The Spencer Rattler era for OU football arrives on Owen Field with plenty of hype
- Article: College football: Sooners up to No. 3, Cowboys rise to No. 11 in AP poll
- Article: OU football: Spencer Rattler's arm is off the charts, but his running ability might be needed soon also
- Article: Big 12 leaves some wiggle room in its schedule for makeup games
- Article: Tramel: Cut Mike Gundy some slack for Oklahoma State quarterback decision
- Article: OSU football: Kolby Harvell-Peel shows creative side through music, with fifth album released on Thursday
- Article: OU football: After 'better than expected' opener, student section biggest change for Sooners' second home game
- Article: OSU football: The Six Shooter pregame thoughts on the Cowboys vs. West Virginia
- Article: OSU football: 3-2-1 kickoff for No. 15 Cowboys vs. West Virginia
- Video: OU Football: Preparing for Missouri State
Perhaps more importantly, they’ll be treated to a different but close-to-normal traditions.
The Sooner Schooner — new and improved following last season’s crash — will run like normal inside the stadium as spirit squads spread out and the band plays on in a new role.
The Schooner won’t be a part of the usual “Party at the Palace” outside the stadium. And there will be fewer RUF/NEKS members involved, with some in a different tunnel. But the Schooner is up and running. That's what matters.
“It’s just one of the many traditions that are obviously part of Oklahoma football,” Gaschler said. “We feel like we can safely do that and still have that present.”
Gaschler said the Schooner runs fast enough and far away from players and coaches that the university felt it was still safe, even as some universities have eliminated on-field access for non-team members.
“Again, things change,” Gaschler said. “We’ll just have to evaluate how everything goes in the first game and go from there.”
Spirit squads — pom and cheer — will not be allowed on the field. Instead, they will be spread out in tunnels on the north end of the stadium and possibly some bleachers in the south end.
The Pride of Oklahoma will also not be allowed on the field. It won’t be at away games for the first time since 1994 either, though neutral site games like the Red River Showdown and Big 12 championship remain a possibility.
The band will be reduced to 80 members on gameday — with a rotation to allow each member at least one game and seniors two.
It will be more of a pep band feel Sooners fans see at road conference games. No live pregame or halftime performances. No pregame parade.
But the band members are just happy to have a chance to perform.
“It is vitally important to those students,” director Brian A. Britt said. “I have students that feel guilty they’re not going to be there to support the team. They enjoy doing it.
“I don’t think they take themselves too seriously, but they take their role in trying to rally the fans and support the team very seriously.”
Before each game, a video of a past pregame performance will be shown with several new camera angles. Opposing fight songs recorded from previous games in Norman will also be played.
At halftime, a new recorded show will be shown on the videoboard for each of the five home games. Britt said the plan is to have the band perform the show on Thursday nights inside the stadium.
“So that the students get to feel the connection of what a special place Oklahoma Memorial Stadium is and the privilege they’ve earned to be on Owen Field as a member of the Pride of Oklahoma,” Britt said.
Britt said it’s been a trying time for the band. But he’s focused on keeping everybody healthy — both physically and mentally — while looking to the future.
“Trying to look past this, because it’s such a beating to focus on the here and now every single day,” Britt said.
But Britt remains grateful.
After all, it could be worse. Some universities have chosen to not allow the band inside the stadium.
“I’m just grateful with (athletic director) Joe Castigilione and everybody on his team just how thorough and thoughtful they’ve been to keep us as part of the gameday experience,” Britt said. “It’s a diminished experience for everyone.
“We’re all in this together at the same level of engagement.”