After the Southeastern Conference decided to shorten its season to a 10-game, league-only schedule, it was clear that the league intends on playing football in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. One question that still remains: Just how many fans will be able to attend the games?
LSU executive deputy athletic director Verge Ausberry told WNXX-FM Friday afternoon that Tiger Stadium’s occupancy will depend on what reopening phase the state of Louisiana is in.
During Phase 2, the state’s current stage, Tiger Stadium would be limited to 50% occupancy, Ausberry said. That would increase to 75% under Phase 3.
“So it just depends on where we are as a state,” Ausberry said.
Ausberry later told The Advocate that the school doesn’t know what the actual numbers of fans allowed inside Tiger Stadium will be when the season begins Sept. 26.
Christina Stephens, spokeswoman for Gov. John Bel Edwards, said in a statement that “it would be purely speculative to say what kind of capacity guidelines there will be for gatherings and events at that time.”
“The state guidance on events will be based on what is occurring on the ground in late September, especially in terms of new case counts and the rate of hospitalizations,” Stevens said. “We are hopeful that Louisianans will heed the Governor’s mandates and advice, including wearing masks when they are in public, keeping social distance, staying home when they are sick and washing their hands frequently, so we can reduce the spread of COVID in the state.”
Several schools have already reduced stadium capacity to meet social distancing precautions.
Illinois announced it will ban tailgating and limit stadium capacity to 20%, and Ohio State announced Tuesday that its stadium’s crowd size also will likely be no more than 20% of capacity. Texas told ticket holders last week that its stadium capacity will be 50%.
A reduction to Tiger Stadium’s capacity still means a portion of fans will not be able to attend.
After the SEC’s decision Thursday to play a league-only schedule, LSU athletic director Scott Woodward sent an email to season-ticket holders that said season-ticket holders and student tickets will be prioritized when stadium reductions are officially made.
The school also detailed how season-ticket holders can opt out of their tickets while retaining their seats for 2021: using them as a tax-deductible donation, rolling their tickets to 2021 or requesting a full refund.
“We’re excited to welcome everyone back to Tiger Stadium in September and we will be in touch with you soon with more details on this plan,” Woodward said in the email.
LSU officials are still determining the full details of how they will allocate seating in Tiger Stadium and who they will distribute tickets to. Those decisions will be finalized, a school release said, once they know what their finalized football schedule is and just how many people can be allowed in the stadium.
“In order to decide how we are going to distribute tickets and to whom, we need to know our capacity first,” said LSU associate athletic director Brian Broussard, who oversees ticket operations, in a statement. “Once we know that and our final schedule, we can finalize our plans. We’ll keep our ticket-holders up to date along the way.”
The SEC is still finalizing the updated football schedules. The league is sticking with its East-West division structure. Normally, teams play eight conference games in a season — six against divisional opponents, two from the other division — and they will add two more cross-divisional opponents to fill out the schedule in 2020.
SEC associate commissioner Herb Vincent told WNXX that the schedules were discussed Friday in a meeting with the league’s 14 athletic directors, and more answers should emerge next week.
“Hopefully we’ll know a little bit more early next week about where that’s going to stand,” Vincent said. “We know that people need to plan. We know that teams need to plan, schools need to plan. There’s a sense of urgency for that.”
The SEC’s elimination of nonconference games swept four games off LSU’s schedule, including its marquee rematch with Texas that was scheduled for Sept. 12 in Tiger Stadium.
Ausberry said he will soon have a conversation with Texas officials about potentially rescheduling the game. It will be difficult, because LSU usually only plays one Power Five opponent per year and has one scheduled for every season through 2032: UCLA (2021, ’24), Florida State (2022-23), Clemson (2025-26), Oklahoma (2027-28), Arizona State (2029-30) and Utah (2031-32).
Most Power Five teams generally only play one Power Five opponent in the regular season, and, Ausberry said, if that trend changes, “that’s more attractive for us” to schedule a team like Texas sooner.
“There’s so much uncertainty out there right now out there,” Ausberry said, “and we’re just trying to figure out what this thing is going to look like, not only this year, but for years going out.”