It seems certain that college football games won’t be played in full stadiums this season because of the coronavirus pandemic. But could some schools host games with limited capacities?
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith told reporters Wednesday that the school has looked at scenarios where fans could be in the stands at Ohio Stadium in the fall among other options as it prepares for the 2020 season. And there would be far fewer fans than usual if people are even allowed to attend the games. Ohio Stadium can hold just fewer than 105,000 fans.
“We have played a little bit with the social distancing concept and we know that probably would take us down south of 30,000 fans in the stands, actually closer to 20-22,000,” Smith said. “So we’ve played with that as a framework to start as we move forward and would ultimately be allowed to do.”
Smith clarified his comments on Twitter after the call and said Ohio State could even host more fans than that depending on social distancing rules and requirements this fall.
Just want to clarify:
The number of fans we could host in Ohio Stadium this fall under physical distance guidelines could be as low as 22k, but also may be as many as 40-50k if guidelines are relaxed. pic.twitter.com/VEUPFPc4V8
— gene smith (@OSU_AD) May 20, 2020
If limited capacities for Ohio State and other schools were a viable option, more things would likely have to be done in addition to simply limiting the number of people who would be able to attend. Traffic through concourses would likely have to be limited and/or rerouted and other operational processes like concession sales and even restroom logistics would have to be changed. Reducing the number of people in the seating areas of a stadium doesn’t do much good if they are crowded together in other parts.
There’s also the ticket availability conundrum that schools will have to solve if they are able to host fans in some fashion for games. It reasons that most schools will make their limited tickets available first to the largest and longest-term donors much like seating priority is done for normal football seasons.
‘Not 100 percent comfortable yet’ about football
Smith has previously said that he wouldn’t be comfortable with games happening without fans. He said in April that he figured if football games weren’t safe enough for fans to attend they also weren’t safe enough for the players as well.
He said Wednesday that he was “not 100 percent comfortable yet” about the safety of football in the fall but also added that he was cautiously optimistic about it and noted that medical experts would determine the paths that schools would take to play football.
“You constantly get educated around different tactics that you can employ from a safety point of view,” Smith said about our evolving learnings regarding the coronavirus. “We continue to learn different things from different countries and obviously across this country, and so I am hopeful, I am cautiously optimistic that I am going to reach 100 percent comfort level. But I’m not there yet. Just like I’m not there yet 100 percent with fans in the stands.”
Smith’s comments Wednesday came as the NCAA’s Division I Council voted to allow football and basketball players to begin voluntary workouts on June 1. The council’s ruling paves the way for individual conferences like the Big Ten and SEC to let mandates prohibiting in-person athletic activity expire at the end of the month. But while conferences may soon vote to let those prohibitions expire, many schools will still be subject to state and local government rules regarding large gatherings.
Tuesday afternoon, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said the state was “moving from orders to strong recommendations” for its citizens regarding the coronavirus pandemic. He also continues to note that large gatherings like sporting events would be some of the last things allowed to happen in the state.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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