Crowd noise could be replaced by near silence as several sports are discussing options of returning with teams playing in empty venues due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Even though catcher David Ross played his entire career with his back to the crowd, he heard its roar and sensed when fans were on their feet.

Bobby Bowden recalled the crowd being so loud at LSU that he could not hear his assistant coach standing next to him.

Golfer Hudson Swafford embraces the uplifting energy generated by galleries, while pitcher Luke Weaver believes fandom improves your concentration in crucial moments during games.

Crowd noise, however, could be replaced by near silence as several sports are discussing options of returning with teams playing in empty venues due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I don’t think fans even realize the energy they bring on a nightly basis when you are a player,” said Ross, a two-time World Series champion and first-year manager of the Chicago Cubs.

“That atmosphere they create, the switch in momentum, fans standing on their feet and the bases loaded, a 3-2 count in a battle at-bat in a close game … That energy. Players feel it, you feel it on the field, and in big moments.

“You just can’t duplicate that.”

Pro teams continue without crowds

Last Saturday in Jacksonville, UFC 249 (mixed martial arts) was the first major live professional sporting event in the United States since the pandemic halted athletics. It was held without fans, but still hailed a success by those involved.

NASCAR is scheduled to resume its Cup Series competition Sunday at Darlington Raceway without fans in the grandstands. The PGA Tour will resume its schedule next month in Texas, and the tour’s first four events will be played without spectators.

Professional baseball could return to training camps in June with an opening day set July 1-4 in empty stadiums, according to a plan approved by owners Monday.

College sports' future remains unknown

College football’s status remains uncertain, though several Power 5 schools have said they expect to open in the fall. However, last week NCAA President Mark Emmert said he does not envision schools being ready to begin competing in college football or other fall sports unless students return to campuses around the country.

Still, some have suggested the only way the upcoming football season is played safely due to health concerns would be without fans in the stands

“I wouldn’t enjoy it, it would be just like scrimmaging,” said Bowden, Florida State’s legendary coach who led the Seminoles to a pair of national titles and has remained in Tallahassee in retirement. “I think it would knock a lot of fun out of it.”

Bowden, 90, built FSU into a national powerhouse and understands the importance of crowd support. Despite an attendance dip in recent years, the Seminoles’ game-day experience is regarded among the country’s best.

Bowden said his first experience as FSU’s head coach against a raucous crowd was in at LSU in 1979. The Seminoles stunned the home team 24-19 before 67,197 in Tiger Stadium. Prior to the game, Bowden telephoned Southern Cal coach John Robinson and asked how the Trojans – ranked No. 1 that season – prepared for the Tigers’ hostile environment. USC escaped No 20 LSU 17-12 a month earlier.

“I had heard how bad the noise was there (at LSU) and asked (Robinson) what was the best thing to do about it," Bowden said. “And it was loud boy. I remember I couldn’t hear George Henshaw (FSU offensive coordinator), and we were standing right next to each other on the sideline.”

While galleries at pro golf events can be loud across the course, spectators are requested to follow the sport's tradition and be quiet during play. Still, Swafford – a former Maclay standout and 7-year PGA player - says golfers will miss the crowd’s energy and interaction. The Tour has said the first four tournaments will be spectator free. It will then make decisions on future tournaments based on the advice of federal, state and local governments.

“You do kind of feed off the crowds in golf but it’s not as big per say as in an arena sport, where you have a homecourt advantage. So it will be a little different,” said Swafford, a St. Simons, Georgia, resident. “Still, a majority of time spectators in golf are pretty uplifting for everybody. You are not getting booed most of the time. … Being inside the ropes is special, it’s great having fans, seeing the kids, seeing people strolling the course and enjoying themselves.

“I will miss that part.”

Weaver, a former All-American pitcher at FSU who is entering his second season with the Arizona Diamondbacks, is accustomed to playing in front of large, boisterous crowds.

FSU baseball traditionally sells out season tickets at Howser Stadium, and The Animals of Section B is a well-known group of fans that passionately supports Seminole baseball. A former first-round selection of the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2014 Draft, Weaver made his big-league debut in 2016. He also has experienced one of his sport’s best rivalries in the Cardinals-Cubs showdowns.

There is hope fans will be able to return to ballparks at some point if the season is played. There could be a small percentage of seats sold at first and then gradually increasing, according to reports.

“I think about going back to the minor leagues and kind of hitting some stops along the way and remember how brutal that was to pitch in front of nobody,” said Weaver, who lives in Tallahassee in the offseason.

“There’s a reason why people say fans play such an integral role in the process of the game. When you don’t have fans and that atmosphere, it becomes flat. And it becomes a lot of forced energy and a lot of moments you are trying to create instead of it creating it for you."

Weaver, who made 11 starts last season (4-3) with a 2.94 ERA before being sidelined by elbow pain, also pointed out how fans can influence a game by their sheer volume.

“It’s also about who has the abilities to tune it out (crowd noise) and focus in because crowds also play a factor in messing up players’ games in various sports," Weaver said. " I think the great ones are able to tune them out.

"There’s an art to that.”

What's best for the game right now?

In April 2015, the Baltimore Orioles beat the Chicago White Sox 8-2 at Camden Yards in the first regular-season game played without fans in MLB history due to civil unrest in Baltimore. Players and reporters said that conversations from the field could be heard in the press box that day.

Ross, a fan favorite during his 15-year professional career, will miss that part of the game if the season is played without fans. He enjoyed signing autographs as a player and "flipping a baseball to a kid and making his day." However, Ross also will be thrilled to see baseball return, giving fans the opportunity to cheer on their favorite teams from afar until they are permitted to return.

“We are going to do what’s best for the game right now, trying to get that back,” said Ross, a Tallahassee resident and former Florida High star.

“I am a big energy guy. I am emotional. I love the energy the fans bring to the ballpark. That’s why it’s so much more special to go to an event rather watching it on TV because you are interacting with other fans, high-fiving a stranger next to you. Fans are what it's all about. Without them, the game is still fun. But the excitement they bring in big moments, you can't replace that. You can't simulate that.

"It’s going to take a little adjustment for us.”

The Tallahassee Democrat is part of the USA TODAY Network

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