Bars, parties and football during a global pandemic


Campus culture on the University of Oklahoma continues to adapt around coronavirus restrictions. Photo courtesy OU.

When the University of Oklahoma Sooners kick off their season Saturday night against Missouri State, the stadium will feel empty,  but nearby Campus Corner will not.

OU is limiting attendance inside Gaylord Family Memorial Stadium to 25% of its 86,112 capacity, but one block away Norman’s Campus Corner entertainment district will experience bigger crowds and looser restrictions. 

The Norman City Council voted 7-1 Tuesday night to allow bars, restaurants  and outdoor patios to operate at 75% capacity on game days.  Kate Bierman, the only council member to vote against the ordinance, said she believes Norman is “going backwards” in its handling of the pandemic.  

The White House Coronavirus Task Force recommends that bars should be closed and “indoor dining must be restricted to 50% of normal capacity in yellow zones and 25% of normal capacity in red zones.” Oklahoma is currently listed as a red zone state with more than 10% of Oklahomans screened for COVID-19 testing positive for the virus.  Cleveland County, with the third highest number of new infections in the state,  is listed in the yellow zone with a positivity rate between 5-10%.

Bars around campus have been continuously packed since the arrival of students in mid-August.  The previous Norman city code required patrons to wear masks and restaurants to arrange seating to promote social distancing.  However, videos have appeared on social media in the past two weeks showing large numbers of Campus Corner visitors violating the masking policy. 

To assist with social distancing on game day there will be picnic tables located on Asp Avenue and a jumbotron set up outside that will broadcast the pay-per-view broadcast of the game.

Once fans step onto the Norman campus, masks are required in both indoor and outdoor venues including inside the stadium.  Tailgating on campus is prohibited. 

Norman City Manager Darrel Pyle emphasized that Norman and OU are closely coordinating their safety measures. “We’ve got a group from our Emergency Operations Center who measure the [COVID-19 testing] data on a daily basis. We’re in regular communication with the folks at the University of Oklahoma, OU medical and Norman Regional Health to make sure everyone stays on the same page,” said Pyle.  “We want to make sure . . . we can see the impact either successfully or unsuccessfully out of actions like last night’s adopted ordinance,” he added.

Local churches, who for decades have counted on income from selling game day parking spaces, are bracing for the economic impact of the restrictions. However, there is no ordinance in place that would prohibit tailgating on private property, including churches. “If people want to have cookouts in their yard, we have not implemented anything that would stop that from happening,” said Norman City Attorney Kathryn Walker.

During the Norman council meeting, several officials pointed out that there is a city ordinance already in place that restricts large off-campus parties.  A house can be declared a public nuisance after three convictions within one year. 

“People are going to come and enjoy what Norman does best, we just want to make sure we’re providing opportunities to do it safely,” said Mayor Breea Clark during the City Council Special Session. “The end goal [is] keeping our students here, our residents safe and our businesses open.”

Gaylord News is a reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication.