Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith said his department has considered multiple social distancing scenarios, including one that would put a limit of 50,000 fans at the school’s 102,000-seat football stadium.
The 2020-2021 college football season is in limbo as many sports remain suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic. The NCAA said Wednesday voluntary on-campus athletic activities for football and women’s and men’s basketball can begin June 1.
“We’ve played with that a little bit as a framework to start as we move forward and think about what we’d ultimately be allowed to do,” Smith told reporters Wednesday.
Smith added that the Buckeyes will allow voluntary workouts to start June 8, if approved by administrators at the Columbus, Ohio, university. He said although he hopes for a 12-game regular season, eight games would be “reasonable.”
“We’re fortunate, with 100,000 seats in the stadium,” he said. “So could we implement the current CDC guidelines, state guidelines around physical distancing, mask requirements and all those types of things in an outdoor environment and have obviously significantly less fans than we are used to? I think it’s possible.
“I just feel like we have the talent and skill and space capacity to provide an opportunity for a certain number of fans to have access to our particular stadium. Of course, that wouldn’t be true across the country because of capacity. But I think we can get there.”
Smith later clarified his comments.
“The number of fans we could host in Ohio Stadium this fall under physical distance guidelines could be as low as 22,000, but also may be as many as 40,000 to 50,000 if guidelines are relaxed,” he tweeted.
In April, Smith said he “struggled” with the concept of staging football games without fans.
“When I first heard [about games without fans] I said, ‘OK, that could work,'” he said. “But if we don’t have fans in the stands, we’ve determined it’s not safe for them in a gathering environment. Why would it be safe for the players?”
The Buckeyes athletic director added that he became more comfortable with the idea after conversations with other officials.
“It’s still an interesting challenge that we could create an environment where our players, who are in contact physically, can be safe but we couldn’t create a strategy for safe environment for an X number of fans.”
Ohio Stadium is one of the largest on-campus stadiums in college football. The Buckeyes are scheduled to start the regular season by hosting Bowling Green on Sept. 5.