Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith told reporters on Wednesday that he can envision fans being allowed to attend college football games in the fall, but says his department is working on plans to reduce capacity.
Smith’s comments come as the governors of Oregon and California have suggested that stadiums could remain closed during the football season due to the spread of the coronavirus. Ohio State is slated to play at Oregon in September, but it’s questionable whether that game will take place.
Smith pointed to a lack of national coordination on why playing a college football season would be complicated. From a logistical standpoint, it would be easier for his program to only play a conference schedule, Smith said. But even that is complicated given the expanse of the Big Ten Conference ranges from New Jersey, which was the hardest-hit state on a per capita basis from the virus, to Wisconsin, which hasn’t seen quite the spike in cases as other states.
“Can we come up with a national solution where we have standards and protocols where everybody operates and implements wherever we go, I think it can be done,” Smith said. “But it is murky and messy right now because of everyone trying to get coordinated.”
According to Smith, Ohio State would limit capacity “south of 30,000, probably between 20 and 22 (thousand).” For context, Ohio Stadium seats 104,000 and averaged 103,383 fans per game in 2019.
Ohio State ranks third nationally in college football attendance, and is among six programs that average more than 100,000 fans per game – Penn State, Michigan, Texas A&M, Alabama and LSU being the others.
Smith previously said that he had a challenging time envisioning a scenario where it would be safe for players to contact each other, but not allow fans into the stadium.
Smith acknowledged policing a crowd, even one at a greatly reduced capacity, would remain a challenge. For instance, Smith could not answer whether fans would be required to wear masks. He also said controlling egress through the stadium would be difficult.
Complicating matters is that college football is largely a regional sport, and with decisions being made at the state level instead of nationally, conducing a full 12-game regular season schedule could still be a challenge.
Adding to the optimism that a college football season of some form could be played, the NCAA voted on Wednesday to allow voluntary on-campus workouts for football and basketball player, effective June 1. ESPN was first to report the news.