August 3, 2020 – The University of Illinois is doing everything it can this year to give fans the football season they look forward to every fall despite a tailgating ban.
Kent Brown, the assistant athletics director for the University of Illinois, said tailgate parties have always been part of the Big Ten football experience. A lot of fans who don’t have tickets to get inside the stadium come for the all day parties in the parking lots. Even for night games, cars and trucks with fans are lined up by 7 a.m., looking for spaces to set up tents and grills and platforms for live bands.
The University of Illinois was working on COVID-19 safety plans for scaled-down tailgating when Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced his Phase Four COVID-19 rules, which include a ban on tailgating at outdoor sporting events this fall.
The problem is the crowds, Brown said. One tailgate party at Memorial Stadium can attract 150 or even 200 people. Beer and the party atmosphere undermines mask-wearing and social distancing. Brown’s disappointment with the tailgating ban is evident. The main thing, he said, is to do everything possible to make sure that there is a football season this year.
“We certainly hope to have the games and we are preparing for them, but we know that could change at a moment’s notice,” Brown said.
With no tailgating this year, parking lots at Memorial Stadium will open two-and-a-half hours before game time. Gates to the stadium will open two hours before kickoff. Instead of 60,000 fans in the stadium, there will be 10,000 to 12,000 people in the stands. Fans will be encouraged to go inside early in order to prevent crowding at the gates.
Seating inside will be spaced out to every third row. Season ticket holders will not be assigned to their accustomed seats. Masks will be required. Seating groups will be distanced from each other in each row. Cleaners will be at work before, during, and after the games.