The restrictions on large gatherings in Pennsylvania that have been imposed by Gov. Tom Wolf are likely to last into the college football season, meaning that Penn State will play in front of 106,572 empty Beaver Stadium seats.
The coronavirus pandemic will dictate whether football and other fall sports are played. Should the pendulum swing in the other direction and cases start dropping, however, the hope in Happy Valley is that there could be some wiggle room to allow some fans into the facility.
Sandy Barbour, the university’s vice president for athletics, and her associates are prepared in the event that happens.
“The governor’s orders, as of today, the guidance is [a] 250 [limit] for outdoor events, 25 for indoor events,” Barbour said Thursday in a Zoom call with reporters. “Therefore, we would not have fans in the stands under these guidelines for the fall.
“We continue to work – we have for months – with the governor’s office for the opportunity to have a little bit of flexibility or a little bit of an opening. If the conditions were to improve, what might that look like and what would be the possibilities there.”
Barbour said the 250 maximum would count players, coaches, staff, people involved with game operations, and media. She said she has asked the state to consider the suites on the east side of the stadium as a separate structure.
Should the governor’s order on large gatherings change, however, Penn State athletics has revealed a plan to open Beaver Stadium to a maximum number of 23,275 fans, or about 22% of capacity, while providing about 8,500 parking spaces (33%).
Carl Heck, the department’s senior associate athletic director of capital events and facilities, said the crowd would be a mix of season ticket-holders and students. There would be fewer concession stands, limited to prepackaged food and beverages with fans taking the food back to their seats.
Heck said a survey of about 30,000 season ticket-holders showed the fans’ No. 1 priority was universal wearing of masks, followed by the availability of hand-sanitizer stations, more than 1,000 of which have been purchased. Continuous cleaning and staff health protocols also will be practiced, he said.
Penn State’s 2020 season begins Sept. 5 at home against Northwestern. A 10-game schedule against Big Ten opponents is already under the cloud of the pandemic.
“I’m certainly not sure we’re going to play,” Barbour said. “We still have some time for things to turn in the right direction. But at any point, if our experts come to us and say, ‘Look, even with all your testing, all the things that you’re doing to help mitigate the virus and protect students, we just don’t think you can do this safely,’ then we will not do it.”
In her letter to season ticket-holders, Barbour pointed out that revenue losses for the athletic department will be “in the high eight figures” regardless of the teams playing or not, and would reach nine figures “in the case of no competition.”
Barbour told reporters that all coaches “were given guidelines around pay cuts, and it was a graduated scale.” She said she took a 15% reduction, which amounts to $182,850 from her reported annual salary of almost $1.22 million.
Asked about the reduction taken by head football coach James Franklin, Barbour replied, “I’m certainly not going to speak on behalf of anybody else.”