Watch List: OU joins digital ticketing movement

Fans cheer on the Sooners at the newly renovated Owen Field during the first home game of the 2016 season.

• Editor’s note: There are more questions than answers regarding when, and how, college football will begin again. Each week until next season, The Transcript will produce its Watch List to monitor developments, setbacks or points of interest surrounding college football’s anticipated return.

There has been increased positive sentiment recently about the return of college football. But schools have been working toward such a return for months, so as not to be caught flat-footed.

Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione said in April that OU had already installed hand sanitizers at athletic facilities as a coronavirus mitigation measure.

OU unveiled its next move Wednesday, giving another glimpse of what college football might look like next: digital ticketing for all athletic venues, plus football parking

The Sooners will aren’t the first athletic department to implement those measures, but the timing made sense under the current climate.

“Our aim is to limit physical contact between our fans and game day staff as much as possible, and this change is a first step in achieving that goal," Castiglione said in a release.

More of those steps will be announced later, he said.

For now, buyers will be linked through the Sooner Sports app or text messages, where they can download tickets on Apple Wallet (iPhone) or Google Pay (Android). QR codes on the tickets will be scanned at the gates.

Digital ticketing can reduce ticket fraud, Castiglione noted, but not all fans immediately embraced e-tickets. Some pushed back on Twitter over the changes. OU will print a limited amount of commemorative tickets for fans who use them as collectables.

Fans who attended the last two Big 12 championships and OU bowl games have experienced digital tickets before.

The next step, which is more complicated, will involve which fans — if any — will be allowed to watch events in-person next season.

That topic arose Wednesday when Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith told reporters the school is modeling home games with as few as 20,000 fans or as many as 50,000, if local guidelines make it possible. Ohio Stadium holds 102,000 spectators.

To admit 20,000 people would mean selecting some combination of players’ families, donors, season-ticket holders and students, which is at best an awkward position for athletic departments.

The Sooner Club point system provides a guide to how that selection process might work, but it hasn’t been tested this way before.

How great the demand will be is another question. Oklahoma has not been hit as hard by the virus as some states. But a Seton Hall Sports Poll from April suggested nearly 3 in 4 Americans aren’t prepared to attend games without a vaccine in place.

• Trending up: Before a digital-ticket holder sets foot inside Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, athletes must be able to return to campus for workouts.

Progress arrived Wednesday, though the news puts OU coach Lincoln Riley in position to defend the statement he made last week when expressing concern about colleges eagerly bringing players back to campus June 1.

According to multiple reports, the NCAA Division I Council voted to resume voluntary athletic activities in football, men's basketball and women's basketball beginning the first day of June.

According to Yahoo's Pete Thamel, the activity period will run June 1-30.

All in-person, on-campus activities had been suspended through May 31.

The development keeps college football on track to return this fall, with key dates falling anywhere from June through mid-July. A number of coaches have expressed desire for a six-week timetable to prepare for the season.

In March, Riley said if students weren't back on campus by June 1 it would reveal a lot about how close college football is to returning.

Much has happened in the world since then.

Last week Riley's position changed, as he called the rush to return by June 1 "ridiculous," while speaking with local reporters last week. That was seemingly directed at the Southeastern Conference for its impending vote to bring players back by that date.

Now, Riley must choose to embrace the NCAA’s allowance or stick to his strong stance. Teams can choose to bring players back at a later date, and Riley might choose that route.

Resuming workouts will take time as evidenced by the NBA's return to facilities for voluntary workouts. Not every team, including the Oklahoma City Thunder, committed to having players back on May 8, the first day the league allowed.

Logistics and availability of coronavirus tests will be the biggest factors in reopening facilities.

• Trending down: AL.com reported that more than 10 employees working on Alabama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium were infected with the virus and more could be at risk.

The University of Alabama in a statement said COVID-19 precautions such as personal protective equipment, social-distancing guidelines and sanitation were in place. AL.com said its reporters visited the work site regularly and workers “rarely were spotted wearing masks inside the work fences.”

It’s a reminder that while COVID-19 cases and deaths nationally are in decline, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the virus still presents a threat.

Considering the safety of its stadium workers, Alabama must decide how hard it wants to push through a $107 million renovation to one of college football’s grand venues before next season.

• Dates to consider: June 1 (the first day NCAA football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball players are allowed to return for voluntary workouts.)

• Notable: The University of Texas joined the growing list of schools altering the fall semester to prevent a campus outbreak.

Texas’ semester will begin Aug. 26, but in-person classes will move to a remote platform after Thanksgiving, thus limiting travel to and from campus. UT President Gregory L. Fenves cited experts who believe the virus will rebound in the fall.

• Quotable: “There will be positive tests, and you need to do scenario planning to be ready to act on short notice and we need to begin the process of exploration about how we go about coexisting with this virus.” — Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby during the LEAD1 association webinar Wednesday. He also expressed confidence that COVID-19 testing every “two or three days” will be possible by the fall, based on his recent conversations with the White House coronavirus task force.

Digital ticketing: What to know

• OU has moved to digital ticketing for all athletic venues and football parking, making the process contactless

• Printed PDF are no longer accepted. A smartphone is required. "Mobile tickets on a mobile device" are the only acceptable tickets, according to OU

• Tickets may be downloaded using the free Sooner Sports app

• Tickets may be transferred electronically on a one-time basis

• Ticket resolution windows will be available at Gates 5 and 7, for instance, if a fan's phone battery dies on the way to the stadium

Tyler Palmateer

405-366-3580

Follow me @Tpalmateer83

tpalmateer@normantranscript.com

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