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Former Voice of the Hokies shares his perspective on COVID-19’s effect on college football

Published: Sep. 17, 2020 at 6:05 AM EDT
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BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ) -COVID-19 has dramatically changed this year’s college football season.

“This will be one of the more unpredictable and unexpected college football seasons we’ve ever had," former Voice of the Hokies, current ESPN broadcaster and professor at Virginia Tech, Bill Roth said.

A big part of the game is the run on hype and the touchdown cheers. The band, the cheerleaders, the down-to-the minute scoring drives, these are just some of the things that make college football an entertaining spectacle for fans in the stands.

But because of the pandemic, this season has a completely different look and feel.

“These last seven months have been really tough on fans and really tough on athletes who have been practicing and have been getting ready to play," Roth said.

He’s been watching the 2020 football season closely and found that because each college decides for itself how many fans are allowed in the stadium, teams have to mentally prepare for every kind of environment.

“Different schools, different states and different regions are playing by a different rule book," he said. "Louisville is going to have a big crowd for its game this weekend. The game I did in Georgia last week, the stadium was 25 percent full. When Tech plays, there will only be a thousand people here.”

Not only will a limited number of fans be allowed inside Lane Stadium; pre-gaming will look different this year since Virginia Tech has banned tailgates.

“If you love to tailgate, if you love to jump up and down with 66,000 other people, it’s not happening this year," Roth said.

WDBJ7 asked Roth what he thinks the effect on the game will be without those screaming fans. He said taking away fans really takes away the home field advantage.

“We’ve really seen that with the NBA bubble and the NHL bubble," he explained. "It’s a completely neutral, almost sterile environment so the results of some of the games are very curious.”

Which means this year’s championships in professional and collegiate sports are really anyone’s game.

“I think this is probably going to be the most surreal year ever for sports fans," he said. "We’re going to have an NBA champ we probably didn’t expect. We’re going to have an NHL champ that we probably didn’t expect. And we might have a college football champion we didn’t expect as well.”

College athletes are having to change the way they prepare for game day because of COVID-19. Not only do athletes have to ask themselves what it’ll take to win; they’re also asking, ‘Will we even get to play?’

“So the challenge for the coaches and the players is, ‘Well, one more week. One more week and we will play.’ But it’s really hard on those guys,” Roth said.

Many football players at Virginia Tech have been here since June getting ready for their season, which was supposed to be this Saturday.

“I have great empathy for the athletes at UVA and Virginia Tech cause they have been practicing so hard in the classroom, in the weight room and in practice," Roth said. "And then at the last minute the game is taken away from you so I really feel for those guys.”

Roth said some players have opted out of playing college football altogether and instead have entered the draft. Others are trying to figure out what they’re even playing for with many post-season plans still unknown.

“You know I think we have to keep in mind the big picture. It is a global pandemic. It is a sneaky virus," Roth said. "We don’t know when it will hit a certain population or a certain region. So we have to be totally understanding. Everyone’s post-season structure is going to be different. All the major sports have had to change their post-season plans and the same thing could likely happen in college football as well.”

As of Sept. 17, UVA and Virginia Tech will have their season openers Sept. 26; UVA will play against Duke and Virginia Tech against NC State.

The Commonwealth Clash between UVA and Virginia Tech has been rescheduled for December 12.

Copyright 2020 WDBJ. All rights reserved.

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