Texas officials are now looking at the possibility of a 25% stadium capacity — about 24,000 fans — this football season at the request of school leaders, interim UT President Jay Hartzell wrote Wednesday in a campus-wide email.
In June, Gov. Greg Abbott issued a statewide mandate for a 50% stadium capacity on all pro and college athletic stadiums to combat the spread of COVID-19.
UT athletic director Chris Del Conte has insisted the school would follow all state guidelines — meaning Royal-Memorial Stadium would be only half full. Currently, UT’s season is scheduled to start on Sept. 5 at home against South Florida.
Royal-Memorial Stadium’s listed capacity is usually 100,119, but with the south end zone under reconstruction, it’s temporarily down to 95,594. Twenty-five percent of that would be 23,899.
In his letter, Hartzell wrote that Kevin Eltife, chairman of the UT System Board of Regents, asked him to look at the smaller capacity.
“The analysis of this new crowd size target is a reflection of the consistent change and uncertainty that has come with the COVID-19 pandemic,” Harzell wrote. “As rates in Austin and throughout Texas continue to ebb and flow, we must be agile and work consistently to develop strategies to protect the safety of our student athletes, coaches, staff members, students and all who visit our campus for athletic events.
“As we approach the start of the football season, we will closely monitor the spread of COVID-19 and make final decisions based on the guidance of our Board of Regents and state health officials in the coming weeks,” Hartzell added.
All of this comes as the season continues to deteriorate. Sports Illustrated broke the news that the SEC is leaning toward a 10-game, conference-only schedule. If that happens, the much-anticipated Texas-LSU game would be off.
The ACC also announced a revamped 11-game concept on Wednesday. Each conference school will play 10 league games plus one non-conference game. Notre Dame, a football independent with some ACC ties, will play a full ACC schedule and be eligible for the league championship game.
It’s unclear when the Big 12 will make any scheduling announcements. The league reiterated that its annual preseason media day will go forth as scheduled on Monday, virtually, of course.
Hartzell’s email to campus is an admission that having 50,000 people inside the 100,000-seat venue may not work. A crowd of approximately 24,000 would likely be comprised of parents, close friends and some students. UT would likely cull the names from the top of its Longhorn Foundation priority points list to determine which season ticket holders would gain admission.
School officials would also have to allot some seats to visiting teams as well. Some schools have a larger allotment than others. The league minimum is normally 4,000 tickets, although it can be negotiated higher or lower.
Texas officials have given season ticket holders the option of opting out of this season and keeping their same seat location for 2021. Last year, the school set a record with about 64,000 season ticket sales.
Just figuring how to social distance thousands of fans has been a serious challenge for UT officials. The school has not yet announced what protocols will be in place for fans this season.
“Our social modeling, if we were to stay with a true six-foot radius … we’re only somewhere between 30 and 35% (capacity) in that case,” UT external operations director Drew Martin told his colleagues in June.
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith told the Columbus Dispatch on Tuesday that the Buckeyes will likely stick to 20% stadium capacity this fall. If that happens, tailgating will be banned in Columbus. Ohio Stadium holds 104,944, meaning that 20% capacity would be 20,989.
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