BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon in Bloomington, with the sun splashing down on Bart Kaufman Field and a nice breeze blowing softly from the south. It was a perfect – no, make that picture-perfect – day to be sitting outside and watching a college baseball game.
But on America's most beautiful campus, no matter how nice and sunny it is, these days you can't just walk up and buy a ticket to an Indiana baseball game. COVID-19 protocols are still in place in Monroe County, and they aren't going away, not this weekend when the Hoosiers host Iowa Friday through Sunday, and not any other weekend this spring, either.
At Bart Kaufman Field, there are players and coaches inside the stadium, and a handful of security personnel and media people as well. There are parents of the players in the stands, and that's it. Maybe 100 or so seats are taken, with 2,400 or so of the Bart Kaufman Field seats sitting empty, the sun glistening off the rows of aluminum.
But about 100 miles north, on that other Big Ten campus in the state of Indiana, Purdue and Illinois are playing a college baseball game at the same time. Several hundred fans, around 600 or so on this very same Sunday, are rooting and cheering for their respective teams, buying hot dogs, sipping on Cokes and slapping on a little sunscreen between innings.
What's the difference?
The campus rule-makers, of course.
A month ago, the Big Ten lifted all of its restrictions on conference schools in regards to attendance at spring sporting events. It was done mostly so fans could show up for spring football games at Ohio State and other places, but it also affects the traditional spring sports, too, as well as the fall sports like soccer that got moved to the spring because of COVID.
At Purdue, university officials discussed issues with the Tippecanoe County Health Department officials and decided that allowing fans at 50 percent capacity would be fine.
At Indiana, the discussions were the same but the outcome was different. University officials at the highest level discussed data and trends with the Monroe County Health Department, and decided there was no reason to change any of the current COVID guidelines being followed across the campus.
Purdue wins, 600 to nothing.
There are thousands of Indiana baseball fans who would love to be there, of course, and with good reason. The Hoosiers are not only very good this year, they are also entertaining as well. But the honor of your presence is not requested, Hoosiers fans. Not this year.
Who's to blame? No one, and everyone. It is what it is. It's COVID, not some liberal shenanigans from Monroe County politicians. It still stinks, especially on warm, sunny days.
"The university had meetings with the Monroe County Health Department people after the Big Ten changed its rule last month, and it was an IU decision to keep things the same,'' said Jeremy Gray, Indiana's associate athletic director for strategic communications.
"Nothing really changed, for any of the spring sports, or anything else on campus, really. There are still limits on the size of gatherings, and limits on meetings and such in person. The medical team here at Indiana makes the call, all the calls, and we all follow it.''
No fans were allowed at soccer, softball and track events either, and even if Indiana's football team had chosen to have a spring game – it didn't, just having one last practice/scrimmage instead – no fans would have been allowed there, either.
That's the rule for the rest of the school year.
But here's the good news. It's full speed ahead for the fall.
As plans are being made for the fall sports and beyond in the 2021-22 school year, including what should be very exciting Indiana football and basketball seasons, tickets are now on sale for Hoosiers football, and they've been selling like hotcakes
"There is no Plan B or Plan C either, just a Plan A,'' Gray said. "We are operating on the premise that we'll have 100 percent capacity in the fall and things will be back to normal.''
Doesn't that sound wonderful?
In four months, can you imagine a mostly full Memorial Stadium? In five months, can you imagine The Rock sold out and raucous for a Big Ten showdown between Ohio State and Indiana? Fans crammed in, side by side? Can you imagine Assembly Hall being sold out in November for Mike Woodson's first game at Assembly Hall in 42 years. Oh, the wonderment.
But for now, baseball fans, just hang in there and know that the worst is almost over. Sure, a couple of baseball games would be nice, but we can live with the big picture. Let's root for normal again soon.
Let's root for a seat in Memorial Stadium, and a seat in Assembly Hall. It's been a rough year, but it's almost over.