When the UIL meets to discuss their plans for the upcoming Texas high school football season on Wednesday, one topic that will be addressed will be whether or not high school football games will be allowed to be broadcast or live streamed on Friday nights during this upcoming season.
Due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic and the health risks that could be presented by a full stadium, the UIL should grant a one year exemption to allow live broadcasts or streams on Friday nights for football games to ensure that all fans can have safe access to their favorite teams and players.
Section 868(c) of the UIL rulebook states that “UIL member schools shall not permit the live telecast of a regular season football game on a Friday night.” This ban on live broadcasting high school football games on Friday nights was initially instituted to encourage fans to go to the games, fearing that live telecasts would allow fans to simply watch from home and deny schools valuable ticket revenue.
The proposal that the UIL will consider on Wednesday suggests that this rule should be changed for the time being due to the pandemic.
As the season approaches, there is a real possibility that watching from home might be the only option this fall if attendance at stadiums across the state is limited or not allowed at all. Governor Greg Abbott has already told colleges that attendance will likely not exceed 50% at their football games this fall, so it is reasonable to conclude that a similar restriction could exist at the high school level.
Even if football is allowed to continue this fall with fans in some capacity, there will be family members of players, band members, cheerleaders, or drill team members who are in the high risk category. A player’s grandparents or family member with a compromised immune system should have the option to watch safely from their own home rather than subject themselves to health risks at the stadium. This is a dilemma that many family members would have to face this season if live streams were not allowed.
Josh Gibson, the head coach of the defending 4A Division II state champions Texarkana Pleasant Grove, backs the live stream proposal assuming the likely reality that attendance will be affected in some way this fall.
“If we reduce [or] limit the number of fans that can attend games, I would like for them to be able to live stream our games,” Gibson said. “I would encourage UIL to consider this change under the circumstances.”
This is likely to be a sentiment shared by many across the state of Texas especially as COVID-19 numbers continue to rise and as the state reported on Monday that 2,326 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, a record high during this pandemic.
Furthermore, thanks to current technology, live streams would be accessible at all levels, from 6A to 6-man, across the state. Platforms like Facebook Live, YouTube, and other live streaming apps require simply an iPhone or other smart phone to film and stream a game. This would allow smaller programs to still stream their games, even if they do not have an agreement with a third party broadcasting company, without needing costly technology and cameras normally associated with TV and internet broadcasts.
These live streams and broadcasts could also pull in sponsorship deals with local vendors to be aired during timeouts in the broadcast or stream, providing teams and school districts with revenue streams that could help offset the loss of ticket prices and concessions.
In reality, this virus is still going to have a presence in communities across the state come football season. It was just on Monday that reports surfaced that Cowboys star Ezekiel Elliott and other Cowboy and Texans players have tested positive for the virus. This continued presence in our communities will mean that changes must be made to protect spectators, especially those in the high risk category.
In a year of adjusting to new normals in life and sports, this intersection of widespread accessibility of live streaming technology and the safety it provides for fans is a perfect combination for this fall should the UIL approve a one year exemption to its live streaming ban on Friday nights. Now all eyes will turn to the UIL meeting on Wednesday to see if this promising proposition could become a reality.