Before each home game in recent years at Memorial Stadium, Clemson football players ran to the East end zone near the Tigers’ student section and waved their arms, firing up the crowd prior to kickoff.

If that tradition continues in 2020, it will be in front of a much different-looking crowd due to COVID-19.

Clemson’s student section will be in the south upper deck portion of Death Valley this season, athletic director Dan Radakovich said. The area of the stadium is unique for one key reason: It’s separated from the rest of the seating areas.

In other parts of Memorial Stadium, you can walk to different areas with relative ease. But once you enter the stadium to go to the upper deck on the south side, you only have access to the south upper deck.

“We gave that a lot of thought and we talked a great deal with our medical experts. … Those of you who are familiar with the stadium understand that the south upper deck is an isolated area. There’s a couple of ways in, a couple of ways out, but you can’t go anywhere but the south upper deck,” Radakovich said. “So to keep them in their environment, we wanted to place them in an area where that would be safe.”

Clemson is allowing approximately 19,000 fans per game at Death Valley in 2020, with about 2,300 of those tickets going to students — that area typically seats more than 9,000. A weighted lottery giving better odds to upperclassmen will be used to determine who receives tickets.

The Clemson band will be located on the hill and account for about an additional 300 students, meaning that about 2,600 students total will be allowed at each home game.

During a typical Saturday when the stadium holds 81,500, Clemson students account for about 11,000 fans, or about 13% of the crowd. The percentage of students will be nearly 14% in 2020’s reduced capacity.

“Part of the reason for not putting students on the hill and keeping them in the south upper deck is that the band kind of stays in place during the entire game, does not walk around the stadium. We did not want to have students on the hill because then at that point in time, they would be interacting with the fans who are in the lower deck,” Radakovich said. “Given the way the stadium is pulled together, it looked like a really great opportunity and option for us to place our students in the south upper deck — it will only be students there — and put the band on the hill.”

The rest of the stadium will be filled with IPTAY members and season ticket holders. All fans who requested tickets will receive at least two tickets for half of the games.

“Depending upon your level and your priority number within that level, we will look to make sure that your tickets are in line with that type of priority that our donors are very familiar with,” Radakovich said.

Clemson’s band will not travel for away games, and visiting teams will receive only 200 tickets for those road games.

Those tickets will consist of comp tickets for coaches to distribute and tickets for family members of players.

“There will not be a public sale for Clemson as we go to other areas for visiting tickets because they just won’t be available. And that’s league-wide,” Radakovich said.

Among the other big changes for Clemson home games:

There will be no pregame Tiger Band parade or Tiger Walk featuring the football team. The postgame tradition of Clemson fans pouring onto the field, called the Gathering at the Paw, will not take place in 2020.

Face coverings are mandatory unless fans are eating or drinking.

Tailgating is discouraged. Tents, trailers and large groups are banned.

Clemson opens the season at Wake Forest on Sept. 12, before hosting The Citadel on Sept. 19. The home-game tradition of players running down the hill will continue.

Clemson football 2020 schedule

Sept 12: at Wake Forest

Sept. 19: The Citadel

Sept. 26: Open

Oct. 3: vs. Virginia

Oct. 10: vs. Miami

Oct. 17: at Georgia Tech

Oct. 24: vs. Syracuse

Oct. 31: vs. Boston College

Nov. 7: at Notre Dame

Nov. 14: Open

Nov. 21: at Florida State

Nov. 28: vs. Pitt

Dec. 5: at Virginia Tech

Matt Connolly is the Clemson University sports beat writer and covers college athletics for The State newspaper and Connolly graduated from USC Upstate in Spartanburg in 2011 and previously worked for The (Spartanburg) Herald Journal covering University of South Carolina athletics. He has been with The State since 2015. Connolly received an APSE top 10 award for beat reporting for his coverage of Clemson in 2019. He has also received several SCPA awards, including top sports feature in 2019.
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