Austin Peay and Central Arkansas squared off Saturday night in the first college football game of the new season. The FCS matchup was the first completed NCAA sporting event in 170 days after the coronavirus pandemic placed collegiate athletics on an extended hiatus.

Those who tuned in or were among the few thousand in the stands at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama were treated to a 24-17 Central Arkansas win and a sense of normalcy with the FCS Kickoff. But the reality is that a lot remains different from the last time a college football game was played. Here are 13 things we observed: 

The Crowd

1. According to STATS Perform FCS via Yahoo, around 2,000 tickets were distributed between the two schools and game sponsors. The Cramton Bowl holds approximately 22,000 people, meaning attendance was below 10 percent of the stadium’s capacity.

2. Spectators spread out and were socially distant from each other in the stands and wore masks while entering and moving around the stadium.

3. Concessions were available, but only for pre-packaged items. 

The Atmosphere

4. Distance was maintained outside the stadium as well. Tailgating was not allowed at the Cramton Bowl, which has hosted the FCS Kickoff for four years in a row. The three previous years all reached at least 12,500 fans.

5. With the crowd size limited, both spirit squads were seated in the stands while neither band made the trip to Montgomery.

The Contact

6. Gameplay looked normal, but benches were made 20 yards longer on both sidelines to enable more effective distancing measures. Team bench areas expanded from 50 to 70 yards.

7. The extended benches also required photographers to be socially distant while limiting the amount of media on the sidelines.

8. Coaches and players from both teams were seen wearing masks or gaiters while on the sidelines. Both teams were also tested on Wednesday before making their bus trips to Montgomery.

9. Both teams used disposable plastic cups for water instead of sharing water bottles.

10. Teams were allowed to wear cloth masks over facemasks.

11. If the whistles sounded different on TV, there’s a reason — referees used electronic whistles to officiate the game.

The Media

12. ESPN’s Lauren Sisler conducted a socially distant halftime interview with Austin Peay head coach Marquase Lovings. At the same time, game announcers Matt Barrie and Mike Golic Jr. called the game from Bristol, Connecticut.

The Schedule

There will be no FCS Playoffs this fall as all 13 conferences postponed competition while the NCAA works toward playing fall championships in the spring. However, 15 FCS teams will play at least one non-conference game this fall.

13. Saturday was Austin Peay’s first of three games while also being the first of nine games for Central Arkansas. The Governors face FBS teams in their other two games: Pitt (Sept. 12) and Cincinnati (Sept. 19). As for the Bears, they’re also playing in the first game of the season to feature an FBS team when they play at UAB on Thursday Sept. 3. Central Arkansas is also set to face FCS power North Dakota State on Oct. 30, along with FBS teams Arkansas State and Louisiana.

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