The traditional train whistles and enthusiastic declaration of ‘third down,’ won’t be followed by the usual fan roar at Syracuse University football home games this season. But the Orange will likewise avoid sell-out opposing crowds in Death Valley and at Notre Dame Stadium.
Playing in front of no fans or limited crowds is one of the sacrifices SU and other Atlantic Coast Conference teams will make to play out their revamped schedules amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The Big Ten and Pacific-12 conferences have each postponed their respective seasons.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo mandated in July that no fans would be allowed to attend Orange home games this fall, putting a damper on the long-awaited unveiling of SU’s “New Stadium Experience,” but later stated that ruling could change later this year based on public health guidelines.
The Orange is scheduled to play in front of a crowd of any size just three times during the upcoming campaign, as of Wednesday.
“That’s definitely going to be weird at first, because that’s the main reason you want to play in the Dome, to see everybody yelling and that energy that the fans bring from the school and from the community,” said senior defensive end, Kingsley Jonathan. “But if it comes down to that, we just have to adjust to it and focus in more on ourselves and as a team, have a good communication from the sideline, we’ll be able to hear each other better, and I think there are some of the positives we can look forward to.”
Syracuse will play in empty stadiums for each of its first two games on the road against ACC foes — Saturday’s season opener at No. 18 North Carolina and the Sept. 19 matchup at Pittsburgh.
The home opener slated for Sept. 26 in the renovated Dome against Georgia Tech will not be played with fans, which is also likely to be the case for the Oct. 10 home game against Duke following a scheduled bye week.
“Third downs on defense, we know how loud it gets, so that’s the biggest thing, overall with no fans, it’s just going to be weird,” said junior cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu. “It’s just going to feel like a scrimmage almost, there’s not going to be momentum and things like that which comes from the crowd, so it’s definitely going to be a different feeling.”
The Orange is then scheduled to host Liberty on Oct. 17 in a nonconference matchup that could be in jeopardy due to the Flames’ COVID testing protocol, which was criticized last month by SU athletic director John Wildhack.
Syracuse is next scheduled to play at top-ranked Clemson on Oct. 24. The Tigers were planning to allow 16,000 fans into Memorial Stadium, roughly 23 percent capacity, but still required approval from the governor of South Carolina according to a report at ACCSports.com.
SU’s final two scheduled road games — Nov. 20 at Louisville and Dec. 5 at Notre Dame — could also be played in front of a limited crowd. The Fighting Irish unveiled plans earlier this week to permit fans at 20 percent capacity, with priorities given to students, faculty, and staff.
The Cardinals announced intentions Aug. 24 to allow fans at 30 percent capacity, which would equate to roughly 18,000 attendees.
SU’s only hope of hosting fans at the Dome would likely come during its final three home games — Oct. 31 against Wake Forest, Nov. 7 against Boston College, or Nov. 28 against North Carolina State.