Penn State football spring practice, fans

Fans cheer in the stands during the spring practice game on Saturday, April 17, 2021, at Beaver Stadium in University Park, Pa.

Following an upset over No. 12 Wisconsin, Penn State football will return to Beaver Stadium at full capacity this Saturday — the first time since Nov. 30, 2019 — where it will play host to Ball State.

After being announced in June, Sandy Barbour, vice president for intercollegiate athletics, affirmed via Zoom on Aug. 21 that the plan to return to 100% attendance was still in place. Barbour also said fans will not be required to provide proof of vaccination and there will be no mask mandate enforced at outdoor events.

Locations inside Beaver Stadium that require a mask include the press box and suites, making areas such as the concourse, student section and all other outdoor seating areas unaffected.

Change has occurred since the initial decision over the summer, where a sense of optimism developed with the distribution of the vaccine. But as the looming threat of the delta variant grew, it was already too late to backpedal. In hindsight, Penn State jumped the gun with its decision to allow 107,000 people back into the stands.

Not mandating a vaccine for the university is one thing, but football games are a privilege to attend — especially following the debacle with season tickets over the summer. It doesn’t help the school’s case when programs such as Louisiana State, University of Oregon and Oregon State are requiring fans to show proof of a vaccine or a negative coronavirus test in order to enter the stadium.

And concert venues, too, have already set a standard by making event goers show proof of vaccination upon entering, with some requiring those who are vaccinated to still wear a mask.

Mandating the vaccine seems out of the question at this point for Beaver Stadium. Tickets have already been sold and travel plans are likely already in place. But that doesn’t mean new protocols can’t be established. A negative coronavirus test is still a viable option that can be obtained well prior to kickoff. The Bryce Jordan Center served as a testing center last year and is well within walking distance to Beaver Stadium.

The other feasible option is already in place to an extent with masking. After over a year of required masking, it doesn’t seem like too much of an inconvenience to enforce them throughout the entirety of the stadium, not just the small portion of indoor spaces.

Barbour has put an emphasis on learning from the pandemic, yet considering how transmissible the delta variant is, how much has Penn State learned from the coronavirus? As a university that prides itself on being a research institution, not listening to the research provided by health professionals and experts seems incredibly backwards.

It also seems contradictory for Penn State to not have a more sound coronavirus protocol in place considering how much it has stressed the return to in-person learning and normal campus life. Not having true safety measures in place for a condensed area like a football game goes against that goal.

Penn State owes it to the community to prevent a possible outbreak happening from the start rather than wait until cases rise. And with people coming from different parts of the country to watch the game, the community is being put in a position to simply deal with the aftermath.

Barbour said the coronavirus protocols for all outdoor sporting events could be subject to change if the CDC shifts its stance on the matter. If seems more like when at this point, but Barbour’s statement offers a small bit of assurance that change is possible, even if a masking mandate is not enough in the first place.

As great as it is to have the 107,000 strong back in Beaver Stadium, people’s easy sense of comfort about getting back into the swing of college football is a problem in itself. Being misinformed on the state of the pandemic and acting as if it is still the summertime without the threat of the delta variant will cause harm to others, including members of the State College community.

Daily Collegian Opinion Editor Joe Eckstein can be reached at jce5179@psu.edu.

If you're interested in submitting a Letter to the Editor, click here.