Head Coach Dabo Swinney wears his mask while watching players complete a drill during fall camp.

It is no secret that the world of college athletics has been turned upside down by COVID-19, with the wide-ranging effects of the pandemic only in the early stages of evincing themselves. College sports as America knows them could look drastically different by this time next year, but the varied responses being undertaken by different athletic departments during this urgent period will influence what those possible changes will entail. As for Clemson athletics and its approach to carrying forth with the 2020-21 athletics season, the Tigers and their athletic programs are setting an excellent standard via reliable testing protocols for their student-athletes and staff members and transparency regarding the results of those tests.

Clemson athletics has been consistent in its public relations related to COVID-19 testing and protocols since athletes began offseason conditioning in June. Naturally, several athletes and staff members have tested positive for COVID-19, and proper quarantine guidelines have been followed. The athletic department announced on June 26 that 47 positive results had been yielded from regularly scheduled testing that began once athletics resumed in-person activities on June 1. 

Similarly, Clemson released a briefing on July 10 detailing the testing data from recent weeks. The 722 tests from the summer term yielded an overall positive rate of 7.3%. Social distancing guidelines have been followed closely by all Clemson sports programs, and masks have been a ubiquitous sight at all team-related events that have taken place in recent months. Despite the uncertain and unprecedented nature of how the pandemic has altered college athletics, Clemson has been a pillar of fastidiousness and lucidity in handling the alterations.

“It’s a Rubik’s Cube of how we’re moving through all of this,” Clemson Director of Athletics Dan Radakovich told the media in late June. “It’s very difficult right now. I almost think it’s part of the process to get us where we need to be.”

With concerns regarding whether or not a fall sports season would be feasible brewing, Clemson’s update on July 24 generated optimism within the Clemson network. Radakovich informed the Clemson University Board of Trustees that the entire Clemson athletic department was devoid of active COVID-19 positive tests at that time and was also free of any presently quarantining student-athletes and staff members. 

Uncertainty still obviously looms, regarding the plans for competition in the fall semester. As for now, Clemson and the other ACC member institutions are planning to hold a conference-only fall sports season, with the exception of one out of conference game. Whether or not fans will be able to attend any of those events on Clemson’s campus remains unknown, but the expectation is that, at least for football, reduced-capacity attendance will be given the green light.

“Attendance is still in flux,” Radakovich said in his late July address to the Board of Trustees. “Many models have been pulled together on that, and, hopefully, in the next three weeks, we’ll move forward with more specific details associated with what capacity opportunities we’ll have for Memorial Stadium.”

Football is the primary driver of revenue as it pertains to Clemson athletics, as well as the vast majority of all NCAA member schools. he Clemson athletic department and IPTAY, the membership-based collegiate club that handles Clemson athletics’ ticket sales, have announced potential changes and backup plans that fans should prepare for in terms of changes to the typical attendance and tailgating practices. However, there is still a general expectation that fans will be present at football games. 

The home opener for Clemson football is scheduled for Sept. 12, meaning that a hard deadline for announcing attendance capacities, tailgating protocols and guidelines for health checkpoints required of fans entering Clemson sporting venues is likely on the horizon. In the meantime, Clemson athletes will continue to be closely monitored and regularly tested for COVID-19 in order to ensure the safest possible conditions are in place as the Tigers work toward competing in the coming weeks.

“We’ve never had football practice with the type of protocols that we have in place,” Head Football Coach Dabo Swinney told the press following a practice in early August. “We tell our kids all of the time, but, sometimes, people can feel like they’re invincible. I think our guys caught on really quickly and have done a great job since that time of buying into what they need to do to keep everyone safe.”

Taking precautions will be key to ensuring that fall sports are able to run their respective courses at Clemson this year, and that applies not only to student-athletes, coaches and others associated with Clemson athletics but to the entire student body and the Tiger fan base planning on partaking in the gameday experience. Radakovich, Swinney and the rest of the Clemson athletics family have taken COVID-19 seriously and treated it with the caution that it deserves from the jump, and the refreshing transparency and honesty provided by those in power within the athletics hierarchy have made fall sports a definite reality — and one that will hopefully come to fruition — in Tigertown this semester.


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