Campus police cleared out the entire SMU student section during the first half of Saturday’s game against Memphis because a large majority in the crowd wasn’t following coronavirus protocols such as wearing masks or social distancing, a school spokesman confirmed to ESPN.
SMU’s stadium policy allows up to 1,000 students in its student section and on the lawn, and it requires face coverings when it’s not possible to maintain 6 feet of separation between each person.
“During the game, some students began to gather and disregard these safety measures,” said Brad Sutton, SMU senior associate athletic director/external affairs, in an email. “They were asked to spread out and mask when in close contact.
“After numerous attempts by staff and security to get the students to comply with these safety requirements, it became necessary to clear the area. While some students did move to other areas in the stadium where they could watch in small groups at safe distances, many did leave.”
A picture of maskless students packed together, shouting and celebrating a touchdown on the grassy hill in the end zone at Gerald J. Ford Stadium circulated on social media after it appeared in an online story in The Dallas Morning News.
Following last week’s 50-7 home win against Stephen F. Austin, SMU athletic director Rick Hart issued a public statement addressing the same issue.
“The majority of fans in the stadium behaved responsibly and were socially-distanced and masked,” Hart wrote. “That said, we will be working to adjust the behavior of a small subsection of fans who did not follow our pledge to protect, which was sent to all ticketholders.”
Sutton said that throughout the week, SMU sent “several reminders of the critical importance of following safety measures while attending the game.” SMU also increased staffing in the student section. According to the Dallas Morning News, the entire crowd was eventually gone by the start of the second half.
“While no one at SMU wants to see fans leave, it is important to preserve our privilege to host games with fans in attendance during a pandemic,” Sutton said. “The health, safety and well-being of our fans and students is our highest priority and we must enforce safety requirements to the greatest extent possible and to operate as we have promised local officials. Our hope is that students will be able to return for our next home game and we will continue to work toward that goal.”
With its 30-27 win over No. 25 Memphis, SMU has now started 4-0 in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1983-84. Its next home game is Oct. 24 against No. 15 Cincinnati.