IU football is scheduled to play Western Kentucky University in the first home game of the 2020 season Sept. 12.
That game is not a guarantee, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.
The pandemic is continuing to threaten the budgets of athletic programs across the country.
In March, The University of Akron cut men’s golf, men’s cross-country and women’s tennis in response to budget cuts from the lost revenue. Akron may not be the last school to do so.
Athletic directors, whether they admit it or not, are desperate to have a college football season.
Let’s envision a preseason where IU athletics’ phased return to training works out, and student-athletes are safe, healthy and ready to play a football season across the country.
Now, what about the fans?
A debate among college football faithfuls is underway on whether or not to admit fans to any possible games this fall.
Iowa’s athletic director Gary Barta said May 28 that plans are in place to house multiple percentages of fans in the 69,250-seat Kinnick Stadium, ranging from 50-100%.
“We’re not expecting that we’re going to have sellouts for every game at any stretch,” Barta said, “but right now that’s still one of the modes that we’re planning.”
It would be irresponsible for Iowa not to have a plan in place for such a scenario, but it would be ridiculously irresponsible to allow more than 60,000 people to gather at a football stadium in September. Public health officials would almost certainly say such a scenario can’t happen until a vaccine is widely available.
A detailed plan from Iowa State University says only up to 30,000 season ticket holders will be allowed to attend games this year. In addition, it’s likely no single-game tickets will be sold.
Iowa State’s plan has many issues, primarily that it commits to admitting 30,000 people to a stadium three months from now. It’s also flawed in that it does not include students.
If any fans are in the stands this fall at IU, students should be the first ones back at Memorial Stadium.
The plan says there will be tests for every student who has symptoms. Face masks will be required in all buildings on campus.
With this in mind, the students at IU would appear to be the safest population to attend IU football games in any capacity this fall.
Limiting attendance to students also prevents travel of thousands of people to the city of Bloomington. Each and every one could be a possible carrier of the coronavirus.
It’s still possible that senior wide receiver Whop Philyor and sophomore quarterback Michael Penix Jr. will be playing solely for a TV audience.
It’s still possible that if it’s unsafe to play and no football happens at all.
An IDS report on IU sports attendance figures from February shows that IU’s football attendance revenue, in terms of the overall athletic budget, only amounts to roughly $6 million. The TV and radio media deals bring in over $42 million in revenue, the largest source of income in the department.
IU isn’t as dependent as other schools on football ticket sales for financial viability. This could give IU athletics some room for creativity in how to handle football fans being in attendance this fall.
It’s important to reiterate that health officials should be the primary voices in any decision regarding the resumption of collegiate athletics.
That being said, if all the challenging puzzle pieces fall into place that would allow for a small percentage of fans to attend IU football games this fall, they should be students. Students already only account for a fraction of a stadium that hasn’t sold out a home game since 2017.
If anyone should be able to attend an IU game this fall, why not make it limited to the population with perhaps the most resources available to stay safe?
In a scenario with fans in the stands this fall at IU, students should be the only ones in attendance.