More universities are announcing a commitment to in-person fall semesters and raising the possibility of a 2020 NCAA football season, but plenty of COVID-19 mitigation planning needs to take place.
One of the latest schools to announce an in-person fall semester was the University of Minnesota, where President Joan Gabel is recommending a resumption this fall of in-person instruction and the re-opening of residence halls, dining facilities and other campus services, in a manner consistent with public health guidance. As part of the plan, Gabel is recommending an end of the fall semester at Thanksgiving in order to miss a potential second wave of COVID-19 come late fall and early winter. That schedule puts the University of Minnesota squarely in line with other NCAA schools planning for a fall semester and a football season.
The Board of Regents is expected to review and act on this planning framework during two meetings this week.
The return to school isn’t being totally embraced as of now. In the Big Ten, Ohio State, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa have opened school facilities for player workouts after the NCAA Division I Council green-lit football and basketball athletes working out on campuses starting June 1.
Some schools, however, have already announced preliminary plans for a 2020 NCAA football season. At Iowa State University, Athletic Director Jamie Pollard shared information about how fans could attend Cyclones games:
First, we fully anticipate playing football this fall. In order to do that, we have to overcome several initial hurdles (i.e., getting the players safely back on campus, officially starting team activities, conducting preseason practice, etc.) before we can truly start to assess this fall’s season. As of today, we fully anticipate playing football in Jack Trice Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 5.
The second question is more challenging to answer. Attendance at Jack Trice Stadium would be limited to approximately 50% capacity in order to meet the current guidelines established by state and local officials. Those guidelines may be adjusted as time passes. Right now, we are planning as though the capacity of our stadium would be limited to 30,000 spectators.
As of today, approximately 22,000 season tickets have been renewed for this fall. That leaves us approximately 8,000 seats to be filled.
He anticipated the school will fill Jack Trice Stadium with season-ticket holders and not selling single-game tickets, although season-ticket holders not lose their places if they skip the 2020 NCAA football season due to COVID-19 concerns.
Why the rush to play? Money. Football revenues, both in the form of in-game revenues and broadcast proceeds, are important for NCAA athletic departments. NCAA schools already took a hit earlier this year when March Madness was scrapped; another hit with the loss of football would lead to some dramatic cutbacks in athletic departments across the country.
Photo of TCF Bank Stadium courtesy University of Minnesota.