Colleges Struggle to Decide Who Gets to Attend Football Games

Colleges are scrambling to figure out how many fans can experience the thrills and pageantry of NCAA football in person this season.

Texas A&M University Athletic Director Ross Bjork said he expects the school to allow about half of its 110,000-seat stadium, Kyle Field, to be filled for games. Florida State University announced that Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee would be limited to 20,000 fans this fall, just 25% of its capacity.

Virginia Tech sent a letter to fans saying it doesn’t expect to welcome capacity crowds to Blacksburg’s Lane Stadium, but wouldn’t specify an exact percentage because “if we pick a number today, it could likely change over the next few weeks.”

Then, in a bombshell announcement on Thursday, Penn State said it would play its games at Beaver Stadium without fans for the time being.

Despite public health officials’ desires to limit public gatherings, college football’s rabid fan bases are still hungry for any chance to experience the action, which is due to start at the end of August.

On Twitter and Reddit, fans are scouring the internet for answers to questions that have flummoxed athletic departments for months: is having any fans at games in the midst of a pandemic in hot spots like Florida and Texas wise? And if so, who will get the few seats that are being made available?

It’s a no-win situation for schools. If they pick students, it may cost them millions of dollars in revenue from season ticket holders that pay full price. Side with big-ticket donors and students could claim that they’re being denied an experience that’s considered a rite of passage at many schools.

Replying to @longhornruth @JCHartzell and @TexasFootballWe prefer to have an option with reduced seating. We are season ticket holders, alumni and have a son there.11:27 PM · Jul 29, 2020


See Oakley Hook em!’s other Tweets

Penn State’s hand was forced by an order from the state’s health department, which said the school is subject to a 250-person limit on outdoor gatherings — even at its 106,572-capacity stadium.

“The Pennsylvania Department of Health has provided guidance to colleges and universities that they must follow the 250 or less outdoor gathering limit,” said a spokesperson for the department. “For a football game, this would mean that the attendees of a game would be the players, coaching staff, officials and athletic staff. Fans would not be allowed at this time.”

Penn State isn’t conceding that fans won’t be able to attend, as long as they can pay for a luxury suite. Sandy Barbour, the school’s vice president for intercollegiate athletics, said only that there won’t be fans in “general seating areas,” according to a statement.

The school can’t be blamed for trying to find any path that will allow it to recoup what Barbour’s statement said would amount to revenue losses in the “high eight figures” and allow it to get big-ticket donors on campus this year, sports economists and researchers said.

“Universities are smart, and there is probably a reason why they wrote ‘general seating areas’ there,” said Jon Solomon, editorial director at the Aspen Institute’s Sports and Society Program. “A big part of this is the relationship between major donors and athletic departments. They’re the lifeblood of an athletic department, and their donations are critical for infrastructure and other projects.”

A Penn State spokeswoman said the school is “continuing to work with the governor’s office to understand all aspects of the guidance. This includes press box and suites access.”

All the fretting over the decision may be for naught if the season falls apart, should there be Covid-19 outbreaks on college campuses.

“Assuming people will still want to go to the suite, it seems like a good way to maximize revenue assuming they will play anyway,” said Andy Schwarz, an antitrust economist who is a co-founder of the Professional Collegiate League, a new paid college sports league launching in 2021. “As it is, as I understand the Big Ten protocols, it’s hard to imagine the season making it to its second month unless suddenly college kids act more like hermits, and that seems unlikely.”

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