CHICAGO — The sounds of horns and a squealing saxophone piped into Camp Randall Stadium at the end of the third quarter begins one of the most raucous traditions in the Big Ten.
Wisconsin’s playing at every home game of “Jump Around,” the 1990s hip-hop hit, inspires fans to follow instructions, hopping rhythmically and so enthusiastically on their seats that the press box sways.
This season, “Jump Around” will be played, but nobody will be there to jump.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and safety precautions, only a limited number of family members of players and coaches will be permitted into Big Ten stadiums this season, which was postponed after conference presidents and chancellors initially ruled it unsafe to play this fall before backtracking.
Wisconsin usually packs its 85,000-seat stadium. But with positive cases surging in the state, not even family members will be in attendance when the Badgers kick off the season against Illinois on Friday night in Madison.
“Every player wishes we could have a packed stadium,” Wisconsin cornerback Caesar Williams told reporters. “I don’t think anybody ever thought we’d be going into a season having no fans. Not having ‘Jump Around’ is going to be a little weird.”
It might feel like a nightclub in which the music is pulsing but nobody is dancing.
It’s just one of many Twilight Zone-like scenes to be expected in what promises to be one of the most unusual Big Ten seasons in history.
Games will feel more like glorified practices. The pageantry will feel manufactured. Home-field advantage will be nullified.
The scores will count. But everything else will feel a bit different.
“It’s going to be weird all the way around,” Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said.
Here’s a look at the different game-day experiences to expect this Big Ten season.
— Quiet sidelines
No bands, cheerleaders or spirit squads will be present at games, per Big Ten rules.
Smith said if stadium-capacity limitations change, he would make having the marching band return a priority. The Buckeyes’ pregame and halftime performances will be on Scarlet Saturday, a “second-screen stream” that plays a livestream video from Ohio Stadium.
Videos of the band performing will be played on the scoreboard during pregame and halftime at some stadiums, including Memorial Stadium in Champaign.
— Empty stands? Not completely.
Big Ten players and coaches will be allotted four tickets each for family members to attend games — other than Wisconsin, at least initially. About 400 tickets are provided for opposing teams’ families at most stadiums.
They’ll be carefully spaced in groups to maintain social distancing.
At Northwestern’s Ryan Field in Evanston, families will be seated in the west grandstand, above Row 16. All fans will be required to wear face masks except when they are in their assigned seats.
Ohio State plans to place families in “pods” in seven sections spread throughout the stadium.
Schools plan to allow limited concessions for families.
Because of surging COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the state, Wisconsin Chancellor Rebecca Blank announced Oct. 7 that the university would limit attendance to “essential personnel.” Originally, about 1,500 people would have been allowed to attend.
Smith said the Big Ten attendance policy will be reevaluated weekly, but the conference “decided we’ll all be in this together.” He noted state and local government restrictions on crowds can vary drastically among teams.
— Flat Stanley fans
Fans can still “appear” at games.
Many schools are selling cardboard cutouts of fans to be placed in seats, similar to what some Major League Baseball and NFL teams did this season.
Ohio State workers are spending about 50 hours installing more than 4,300 fan cutouts. Fan cutouts located in the “A” deck cost $50. A limited number of cutouts placed at the 50-yard line can be purchased for $75, while student-section cutouts cost $25.
For $85, Penn State fans purchased cutouts of themselves for the Oct. 31 home game against Ohio State. To re-create the traditional “white out,” fans were encouraged to wear white clothing in the images they submitted. Cutouts could be purchased for three other Nittany Lions home games as well.
The Penn State website said it plans to store the cutouts and allow fans to pick them up near the start of the 2021 season.
Illinois fans can purchase cutouts for $50 to $99. Fans can add a Lovie Smith signature to the cutout for an additional $50, and the image will be shipped to the purchaser after the season.
Portions of the proceeds will be donated to the Bobby Roundtree Trust, which assists the former Illini defensive end’s recovery from a spinal injury.
Northwestern isn’t selling cutouts because the sidelines are too far from the field for television cameras to pick them up often during game action.
— Will I hear a pin drop — or a play call?
The Big Ten provided each school with “crowd-noise murmur” soundtracks, with the noise level going no higher than 70 decibels during play. The level can rise to 90 decibels during celebration moments for the home team.
Gene Smith said he never imagined learning so much about decibel levels, even downloading an app to measure them on his phone.
Illinois offensive coordinator Rod Smith joked that playing in Division II made him used to quiet, empty stadiums. But surely opposing teams will have less of an obstacle communicating than in normal, hostile road environments.
“You’ll probably get to hear everything, which will be unique,” he said. “Communication has never been a problem for us. Now it should be even easier.”
Northwestern does not have a permanent sound system at Ryan Field, so the university is working with an audio company that installs game-day operations for sound from the press box.
A sports information director noted the piped-in noise will have the bonus of covering up coaches cursing on the sidelines.
— No partying allowed
It’s natural for fans to want to gather to watch college football games, whether tailgating with friends or hosting a party at home.
The Big Ten is discouraging gathering for games.
Ohio State will have police patrolling stadium parking lots and surrounding areas to break up large watch parties.
Tracy Hahn, Ohio State’s deputy chief of police, said officers will warn violators and then escort them from the area. If fans refuse to leave, she said, they can issue “the trespass violation since they’re not allowed to be in the stadium.”
Parking lots near stadiums will be closed to the public at Big Ten schools.
“We’re asking fans in Madison to follow public health guidelines and avoid gatherings with anyone outside their household,” Blank, the chancellor, said in a statement. “We’re asking our fans around the state to watch the games at home.”
— Postgame handshakes or sprint to the locker room?
Players will have tested negative before playing. And they’ll face each other on the field for hours.
But the Big Ten still is being cautious about limiting exposure when it can. Don’t expect to see many players lingering on the field to chat with opponents or celebrate with teammates.
Illinois said teams will be escorted off the field “ASAP.” There won’t be a postgame meeting area for players to gather with family members who attend.
Northwestern said coach Pat Fitzgerald will address the team after games and then everyone will load into buses and head back to the athletic facility except for the few players conducting video news conferences.
A Northwestern spokesman said after wins, players might “sing the fight song on the field toward families in the seats, as opposed to the traditional singing with the student section.”
Some traditions remain.
But as Gene Smith said, mostly it will be a weird season.
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