Bringing back tailgate is better for public health

Students will stay in a controlled environment and ultimately bring cases down

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Nina Walat / Daily Collegian

By Luke Halpern, Collegian Contributor

Last weekend, the Massachusetts football team held its home opener against Boston College at McGuirk Alumni Stadium. While the Minutemen have had a rather abysmal last few seasons, the excitement around campus was still palpable. With the return of football comes the return of tailgates. Tailgating, a cherished tradition at UMass, brings the student body together in a way most events can’t do. Arguably, tailgating helps keep the football program afloat, as the enthusiasm around home games brings attention to the program, even if they do lose. Unfortunately, last weekend, the first tailgate was not to be.

Due to an uptick in positive COVID-19 cases, the decision was made to limit tailgating in Lot 11 to only those who purchased game-day parking passes. Suffice to say, the backlash was swift on social media and other online forums. Not only was it the first tailgate of the season, it was the first tailgate in over 18 months, and the first large gathering on campus since COVID took hold. It was supposed to be a symbolic end to the tough restrictions on campus since the pandemic began. As most of the student population is now vaccinated, it could have marked a new era of UMass. Alas, it did not come to pass.

This ended up being the wrong decision. After the tailgate was canceled, students, many of whom were angered by the cancellation, decided to take matters into their own hands and go to the Townehouses of Amherst off campus. This ended up being a wild event, with hundreds of students packed into the Townehouse’s quad with zero supervision. Eventually, Amherst Police forced everyone to disperse, but it did not have to be this way. If UMass would have simply kept the tailgate going as planned, there would have been no need for students to travel off campus. Luckily, UMass learned from its mistake and reinstated the tailgate, which occurred Saturday, Sept. 18th in Lot 11. Ultimately, this was a good decision for not only the campus, but the public health of the community as a whole.

Firstly, the tailgate was centered in Lot 11, with barricades keeping students in the lot while also allowing plenty of space for students to spread apart and social distance. This differs from the Townehouses, where students partied in an enclosed, square box that had minimal breathing room and certainly no social distancing. Secondly, the tailgate ended at a specific time. When an event ends at a specific time, it will allow students to plan around it, and go back to their dorms when the tailgate ends. This is in contrast to an off campus gathering, which has no set end time and no supervision to direct students. The tailgate allows UMass staff and the UMass Police Department to control students, while also letting them have an enjoyable experience. Finally, a student tailgate is not only beneficial to the student population, but the football program as a whole. If students attend the tailgate, it will make them more likely to attend the game following the tailgate, which increases attendance and excitement surrounding the football program. UMass football head coach Walt Bell was also yearning for a tailgate. No matter how dismal the football team may seem, students will continue to be excited about it. A tailgate only increases those efforts and will ultimately benefit the program.

After the events at the Townehouses last weekend, there were 371 new positive COVID-19 cases. While it’s unclear if any of these cases were directly tied to the Townehouse party, the insanely packed landscape would have been a perfect conditions for a super spreader event. This can be contrasted to this past weekend, when I personally took a bus trip to the Townehouses to see if there were students partying as they were last week. Not to my surprise, it was completely empty. This is the result of the tailgate occurring this weekend and giving students a place to go. Students were preoccupied with a safer, more spaced out, campus-sponsored event. UMass should continue to hold the tailgate, as it will please the student population while keeping the health of the campus community in check by enticing students to stay on campus, rather than party off campus with no supervision.

Luke Halpern can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on twitter @lukehalpern.