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Eyes on Texas: While you were quarantined, all the rules changed regarding college sports

If you’re done yelling at the local school board, the Horns like you to come yell for them. Mask optional, of course.

Last year, going to Royal-Memorial Stadium to watch Texas play meant you had to wear a mask, but masks will be optional for Longhorns games this season. UT officials are planning for 100% stadium capacity, too. This year's season opener will be Sept. 4 against No. 23 Louisiana.

Welcome back, Texas fans. The 2021 football season is upon us. Hooray!

Well, UT welcomes those who are vaccinated, of course. Or those who have proof of a negative PCR test 72 hours before kickoff.

And those who approve of “The Eyes of Texas.”

And those who still support the athletes even though they’re no longer amateurs. 

And those who fully support UT’s move to the Southeastern Conference, even though it’s a decision that might be a death sentence for the national relevancy of Texas Tech, Baylor and TCU.

Lot of that going around these days. Even the Alliance doesn’t want ’em.

Bohls: Alliance arises to stabilize college sports ... oh, but sorry, Big 12

It’s tough sledding out there for anyone who just wants to enjoy college sports. While you were quarantined, all the rules changed. Sports have become politicized, societal norms have been upended, and everyone is either hiding behind or protected by Zoom. 

It used to be rather straightforward. Coaches recruit good players, fans attend the games, and reporters write about who won or lost. That was just in 2019, the cultural equivalent of the good ol’ days.

Now, coaches recruit good players and hope they’ll stay happy enough to stay longer than one year. Coach made you mad? Go jump in the transfer portal and see who’ll show you some love, if they’re not already direct messaging you and tampering.

Fans must decide if coming to the game is worth the health risk. Who wants a $3 hot dog with a side of delta variant? We write about the governor’s decisions on stadium capacity and vaccine mandates. We’re supposed to have fun in the sports section, not handicap what these decisions do for the incumbent’s reelection chances.

Fans will have to wrestle with Gov. Greg Abbott's decisions regarding COVID-19 before deciding whether  to come to Royal-Memorial Stadium this fall. Wearing masks inside DKR on Saturdays was mandatory in 2020 but will be optional in 2021.

Godspeed to those in the UT Tower, who must stick their head into the firehose. 

Texas officials are plowing ahead as if everything is back to normal. The reality is they are handcuffed by Gov. Greg Abbott and the Legislature. I’ve spoken with several UT officials who privately worry how all this will turn out. Everybody’s hoping for the best, praying that the only things superspreading are winning vibes.

The Longhorns are returning to 100% capacity this season at Royal-Memorial Stadium. Since Texas is a state school, masks are optional, as decided by the Legislature. 

Is that a good idea? Probably depends on how you voted last November.

LSU — Louisiana, of all states! — mandated that “all Tiger Stadium guests 12 years of age and older provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within 72 hours prior to entry.” 

Steve Sarkisian, the former Alabama offensive coordinator, will be Texas' third head coach in five years this season. He previously served as head coach at Washington and USC.

In a statement, LSU President William F. Tate said, “While we are aware of the diverse perspectives across the nation regarding masks and vaccinations, we must take all reasonable measures to protect our campus and community, not only on gamedays, but long after guests have left Tiger Stadium.”

Meanwhile, UT officials are planning to add a Ferris wheel, a refrigerated beer truck with 15 taps and zip lining to the Bevo Boulevard pregame festivities this season.

On Wednesday, Abbott doubled down, issuing an executive order that essentially bans state institutions from requiring a COVID-19 vaccination as a prerequisite to get into Royal-Memorial Stadium. Or Texas A&M’s Kyle Field or Texas Tech’s Jones AT&T Stadium, for that matter. 

Stay home or come to the game with thousands of your not-so-closest friends? It’s up to you. You know, America, freedom, etc.

As if COVID-19 weren’t exhausting enough, Tuesday night proved there are some still worked up about "The Eyes." A small group of presumably UT students protested the singing of the school song at the freshman welcome event. 

Chances are it won’t be the last brouhaha, especially now that the UT band is back in the public eye. The band was initially sidelined for two games last season for COVID-19 but then got benched for the rest of the season over internal "Eyes" squabbling.

By the way, anybody know when this new JV band — the group that refuses to play "The Eyes" — is performing? Anybody? Friday nights outside Jester, perhaps? Every other Wednesday at the Union?

Believe it or not, I’ve got a small group of emailers who are more upset about the athletes getting paid through name, image and likeness than anything else. “I’m done with college sports,” a regular subscriber wrote to inform me. Um, OK, thanks?

All because Jordan Whittington is now getting some money to talk to Orangebloods? All because DeMarvion Overshown wants to create an Agent Zero line of clothes and armbands?

More:Orangebloods signs Texas athletes Jordan Whittington, Ivan Melendez for interview access

If NIL becomes a problem in the locker room, the issue will eventually seep into the public domain. Which Top 25 team will become the first group undone by how much money the quarterback is getting for advertising? 

Somehow, I don’t think Last Stand Hats is going to cause a meltdown inside Moncrief.

The most exciting summer topic has already lost some steam. Texas is going to the SEC! Wow, this is amazing! It’s going to happen in 2022, right? Well, probably not.

OK, 2023. Yeah, maybe.

2024? You would think the lawyers would push for that.

By 2025? Definitely by then. We think. Could be sooner, though. Keep checking.

More:Adios, Big 12: Southeastern Conference presidents vote to invite Texas, Oklahoma to join league

At least Texas fans can relish the fact that the Horns are set for a banner year on the football field, right? Well, Oklahoma was picked first in the preseason conference poll, then Iowa State and then Texas. And actually, only 18 points separated Texas from Oklahoma State and TCU in the three-four-five spots.

“I really don’t care about preseason rankings,” Texas coach Steve Sarkisian said at Big 12 media days in July. “They don’t mean anything.”

Hey, almost forgot. Texas does have a new coach, so that’s something. Sarkisian provided more media access in the first three weeks of training camp than his predecessor did in four years. What was that dude’s name? The guy with the pee chart and the binder. Ah, doesn’t matter.

There’s a legit quarterback derby. First, it looked as if the veteran, Casey Thompson, would take care of business. But the redshirt freshman, Hudson Card, kept pace throw by throw. Don’t be surprised if Card gets the starting nod for the season opener.

Texas quarterbacks Casey Thompson, left, and Hudson Card have been battling for the starting job. Thompson is a junior who had a big second half in the Alamo Bowl; Card, a local product from Lake Travis, redshirted last season.

Too bad reporters can’t interview either athlete — or any Texas athlete, for that matter — in person due to COVID-19. 

The athletic department had hundreds of athletes stand shoulder to shoulder for a photo op in front of the Tower earlier this week. Those same athletes are now attending classes with tens of thousands of other students. The coaches can’t stop athletes from going to parties. And the school is going to let maybe 90,000 fans into Royal-Memorial Stadium on Sept. 4.

But sure, it’s the reporters who are the problem. Got it.

And thus, the 2021 season begins with practically everybody mad about something. 

If you’re not too busy yelling at the local school board, the Horns would appreciate you coming out this season and yelling for them. Through a mask if you’re not vaccinated, of course. 

This season will a hoot.

Contact Brian Davis by phone or text at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com or @BDavisAAS.