You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

In East Lansing on a game day like no other: Strict COVID rules and security guards

Lansing State Journal logo Lansing State Journal 10/25/2020 Sarah Lehr and Nate Atkins, Lansing State Journal

EAST LANSING - A football season unlike any before has arrived at Michigan State. A season once postponed for all of 2020 by the Big Ten Conference has returned in a nine-game format, and the Spartans' 38-27 home loss to Rutgers on Saturday served as the unorthodox kickoff.

It’ll be a season of limitations in order to take place during the COVID-19 pandemic. No fans are allowed in the stadium beyond the parents of players, and tailgating has been banned in the surrounding parking lots and green spaces.

The game inside the stadium will serve as a bubble next to a bubble, because life only pauses for so much on a state college campus. Students still pack the homes surrounding campus. They’re taking online classes this fall while living fragments of the college experience they signed up for.

a group of people standing in front of a crowd posing for the camera: Cardboard cutouts take the place of real fans photographed before Michigan State's game against Rutgers on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020, at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing. © Nick King/Lansing State Journal Cardboard cutouts take the place of real fans photographed before Michigan State's game against Rutgers on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020, at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing.

Here’s a look at how the first game day went, from a mostly empty stadium to an unusually quiet East Lansing.

a group of people walking in front of a house: Students gather on an East Lansing lawn during Michigan State University's first football game of the season on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. © Robert Killips | Lansing State Journal Students gather on an East Lansing lawn during Michigan State University's first football game of the season on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020.

Live updates: Michigan State football takes on Rutgers in Mel Tucker's first game

Security guard are enforcing mask rules inside the FieldHouse, one of many spots enforcing COVID safety

A year ago, the FieldHouse would have been packed with people knocking elbows as they jostled for pitchers of beer.

But with less than two hours before MSU’s kickoff against Rutgers, the atmosphere Saturday inside the East Lansing restaurant and bar was restrained.

A group of friends reserved one of the limited tables so they could watch the first home football game of their senior year.

a group of people standing in front of a building: Marios Fotiadis, general manager of the FieldHouse in East Lansing, checks IDs before people enter the bar on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. © Robert Killips | Lansing State Journal Marios Fotiadis, general manager of the FieldHouse in East Lansing, checks IDs before people enter the bar on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020.

“It’s not as hype,” said Sydney Asuncion, who’s studying public relations. “Usually game days are a really big deal.”

Earlier this week, a FieldHouse staff member tested positive for the virus and the business temporarily shut down for deep cleaning.

The restaurant’s capacity has been halved to 60 to 70 people. Tables are stocked with hand sanitizer and cards with QR codes to activate touchless menus.

a group of people sitting at a table: People sit at a table at the FieldHouse in East Lansing before 11:00 a.m. on game day on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. Only ten people are allowed at a table and they must wear a mask when not seated, according to the restaurant's general manager. © Robert Killips | Lansing State Journal People sit at a table at the FieldHouse in East Lansing before 11:00 a.m. on game day on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. Only ten people are allowed at a table and they must wear a mask when not seated, according to the restaurant's general manager.

And the bar hired private security to make sure people remain at their tables except when donning a mask to walk to the bathroom.

 “We’re very strict,” General Manager Marios Fotiadis said. “They’re not used to that at all. But we’ll do what we have to do to follow the rules.”

a man standing in front of a brick building: Marios Fotiadis, general manager of the FieldHouse in East Lansing explains the bar's rules on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. © Robert Killips | Lansing State Journal Marios Fotiadis, general manager of the FieldHouse in East Lansing explains the bar's rules on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020.

Coronavirus cases among MSU students spiked after the semester began this fall, with many students still living off campus despite the cancellation of in-person classes.

It’s not what Zach LeFevre expected for his senior year, though he’s willing to adapt.

“We’ll still have fun,” he said.

Related: Watching the Spartans' first game Saturday? Brush up on COVID-19 restrictions and rules

Inside a nearly empty Spartan Stadium, 'it feels like a scrimmage' to staff as coach Mel Tucker promises to 'feel the fans'

As the noon hour approached in East Lansing, a blinding sun settled into position above Spartan Stadium, but so much else remained still.

White Michigan State Police SUVs patrolled vacant campus streets. A sign across from the Kellogg Center outlined that alcohol would not be permitted, though few walked by to notice. The grass usually lined with tables, canopies and red solo cups was as green as the postcards show.

The few hundred people allowed to come to the game, from coaches to players to support staff to media to the parents of the players, were parked and inside the stadium.

Game plan for game day: East Lansing restaurants unsure what to expect for 1st MSU game

The build-up didn't exist.

“When we step on that field, we’re going to feel our fans, we’re going to feel that pride, we’re going to feel that energy,” Michigan State coach Mel Tucker said. “We’re going to take it from the practice field to the game field. We have tremendous energy in our practices, we generate our own momentum and everyone is into it, everyone’s up and ready to go.”

a person in a green field: Michigan State's head coach Mel Tucker looks on before the game against Rutgers on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020, at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing. © Nick King/Lansing State Journal Michigan State's head coach Mel Tucker looks on before the game against Rutgers on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020, at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing.

This is Tucker's first year as head coach and his first working for the program since he was a graduate assistant in 1997-1998. The game day vibes that normally swirl around the stadium are a distant memory for him, locked in an era before social media even existed.

His job has changed in the eight months since he took it. He's not just replacing Michigan State's career wins leader in Mark Dantonio, who went 114-57 with three Big Ten championships in 13 seasons. He's also tasked with providing energy in a year limiting it.

"It feels like a scrimmage," said one elevator operator as the minutes closed to kickoff.

More: How Rocky Lombardi used 4 sports to build the fire for Michigan State's QB battle

a group of people standing on a sidewalk: Michigan State University students pick up free masks from City of East Lansing employees on game day Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. © Robert Killips | Lansing State Journal Michigan State University students pick up free masks from City of East Lansing employees on game day Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020.

'Big parties are really selfish' says a student enjoying game day with a small gathering on MAC Avenue

They moved in green-and-white-clad packs.

A few wore masks – which are required downtown – but most did not as they migrated from party to party.

With tailgating banned, East Lansing’s game day crowds were smaller. And people near campus for the most part ditched parking lots in favor of beer pong on front lawns.

Some fans complied with an Ingham County Health Department order limiting outdoor groups to 25 people. Violation is punishable by a $500 fine.

a house that has a sign on the side of a road: An East Lansing Police car patrols the neighborhoods near the downtown on game day Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. © Robert Killips | Lansing State Journal An East Lansing Police car patrols the neighborhoods near the downtown on game day Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020.

Indoor crowds are supposed to stay under 11 people, but Taylor Burton said many of her fellow students were breaking those rules.

“The big parties are really selfish,” she said just before half time Saturday.

City officials had issued a dozen citations for excessive noise or violating health orders, East Lansing Mayor Aaron Stephens said before 9 p.m. Saturday. 

The large gatherings are disappointing but not surprising, Burton's friend Julia Ruiz said. “I think it’s the idea of being young,” Ruiz said. “No one really thinks about the long-term effects of things.”

a couple of people that are standing in the grass: Members of Michigan State University's Beal Co-op say they're limiting their interactions to a small social circle. They gathered outside their East Lansing house during the first football game day of the season on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. © Robert Killips | Lansing State Journal Members of Michigan State University's Beal Co-op say they're limiting their interactions to a small social circle. They gathered outside their East Lansing house during the first football game day of the season on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020.

The young women gathered in a group of about six people to play drinking games on the front lawn of their M.A.C. Avenue housing cooperative. They said they’re limiting their interactions to people in their house or the one next door to reduce risk.

“We’re just kind of staying out of COVID’s business right now,” sophomore Libby Van Lear said.

More: Aaron Stephens graduated from MSU in 2018. Now he's leading East Lansing through the pandemic

About 100 family members watched from otherwise empty stands, joined by some cardboard cutouts 

Inside the stadium, a game raged on in the quiet. Michigan State went down 14-0 to Rutgers before its offense lined up on fourth down and converted with a Rocky Lombardi pass that Jayden Reed made a move on and then ran 50 yards down the right sideline for a score.

Suddenly, a football game mirrored a silent play. Michigan State's players raised their hands in the air. Lombardi chased down Reed and started to slap his helmet in celebration.

Momentum, if there was any, would not be coming from the crowd today.

The crowd consisted of around 100 people, most of them parents of players, spaced out in the rows behind the home bench. Former Michigan State football coach Mark Dantonio and current men's basketball coach Tom Izzo were also present.

Five rows of cardboard cutouts also backed the two sidelines as well as the two end zones. They resembled fans who paid money to look as if they were at the game.

The rest of Spartan Stadium's 75,000 bleacher seats glistened in the sun as the game below resembled the scrimmage Michigan State holds each spring. The Spartans turned the ball over four times in the first half and fell down 28-13 by the time halftime arrived.

The two teams then ran into the locker rooms, and for 15 minutes, the stadium sat quiet. No halftime show, no on-field fan gimmicks, no boos.

The energy never quite arrived for the Spartans either, as they couldn't come back in a 38-27 loss to a Rutgers team that entered the day on a 21-game Big Ten losing streak.

It marked the first loss of the Tucker era, in a game that few fans will ever be able to say they saw in person.

It was football again, like the players across the conference asked for. But football is about all it was.

This article originally appeared on Lansing State Journal: In East Lansing on a game day like no other: Strict COVID rules and security guards

AdChoices
AdChoices

More From Lansing State Journal

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon