Leistikow: A limited number of fans in Kinnick Stadium this fall? That's still the hope
If there is a fall college football season, be it 10 games or eight or fewer, a natural accompanying conversation is whether fans will be allowed in the stands.
Reduced football capacities have become best-case scenarios, something that the University of Michigan outlined Wednesday morning with an email to season ticketholders. One of the blue bloods not only of the Big Ten Conference but in the nation told its passionate fan base that there would be no season-ticket sales for 2020.
Yes, those folks can keep their seats for a hopefully-normal 2021 season. But for this uncertain autumn, Michigan plans as a best-case scenario to sell single-game tickets, with priority to season ticketholders and students. No single-game public sales, at all.
It is a bold but sensible approach that, much like the conference-only schedule forecast by the Big Ten last week, is centered on flexibility. And it’s one that wouldn’t be surprising for other Big Ten schools (such as Iowa) to mimic in coming weeks.
What do I mean by flexibility?
First, it’s a clean way to address season ticketholders. Refund their season-ticket payment (with the option of using the money as a credit toward future purchases), then outline a fair and orderly single-game purchasing process. (If it happened at Iowa, expect the priority-points system to be its guide.)
It is a fool’s errand to develop a meticulous plan to accommodate and satisfy those who comprise Iowa's season-ticket base (roughly 40,000 for 2020) when things are likely to need changing again two weeks later.
Second on the flexibility topic, let’s suppose Iowa is scheduled to host a Big Ten game Sept. 5 at Kinnick Stadium. And let’s suppose, based on recommendations, that a maximum of 10% capacity is permitted (or just under 7,000 tickets for Kinnick’s available 69,250). But then for an October game, let’s suppose that COVID-19 trends have improved and a 20% capacity level is deemed safe. That scenario allows Iowa to put an additional 7,000 single-game tickets for sale. It’s easier to adjust capacity on the fly, based on the latest guidelines and information, by selling seats on a game-by-game basis as the season progresses.
So, what could be realistic this fall for Kinnick? (Again, assuming we have football.)
For now, Iowa says it’s on track to release its stadium seating plan late this month.
To be clear, what is done in Michigan (where there is a new state requirement for mask use in indoor public spaces and crowded outdoor spaces) or New Jersey might be different than in Iowa. Governor Kim Reynolds’ most recent proclamation on mass gatherings (June 25) leaves a lot of room for interpretation — outlining a requirement for proper social distancing but without hard-and-fast specifics.
Her ongoing guidance will be one factor taken into account by both of the state’s Power Five universities when it comes to football. As a result, you could see athletics departments at Iowa and Iowa State — even in a year they’re not playing each other — working together on best practices for fan seating.
Barring new developments in the next few weeks, I think you’ll see Iowa aim for somewhere in the ballpark of 15% to 20% capacity. That was a model the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens outlined last week, with plans to seat fewer than 14,000 fans for their 71,000-seat stadium. Similarly, the New England Patriots are shooting for 20% capacity (13,175 fans) this season.
Kinnick’s confines are a little tighter, so my best guess is around the 10,000 to 12,000 mark, with about 2,000 students and athletes' families making up a chunk of that attendance.
Is this all a wasted conversation?
There seems to be some "just-cancel-it-now” sentiment of late regarding a fall football season. But there’s little harm in continuing to be patient; football practices don't officially begin until Aug. 7. With Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren's focus narrowed to scheduling within his 14 member schools, it's prudent to wait for more information before deciding to pull the plug.
There's till time. Not much time. But time.
And some glimmers of hope.
According to Centers for Disease Control (CDC) director Robert Redfield this week, recent coronavirus surges could be controlled in four to six weeks if people were disciplined about wearing masks. On Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci touted “good news” on an experimental vaccine that will begin testing July 27.
Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey, who provided a pessimistic football forecast earlier in the week, said Wednesday that coronavirus cases were dropping at his schools.
Arkansas-based Walmart on Wednesday became the latest big business to require masks in its stores, another sign of the (hopefully) growing national commitment to tackle this virus before football players (hopefully) can safely tackle each other — maybe even with fans in the stands.
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 25 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.