Penn State vice president of intercollegiate athletics Sandy Barbour said Saturday that the university is continuing to plan for capacity crowds of around 107,000 at each of its seven home football games this season but acknowledged that it is ready to adjust should there be an upward shift in COVID-19 cases.
Speaking on a Zoom call with the media, Barbour said there will be no requirement where fans would have to show proof of vaccination to get into Beaver Stadium and that masks would not have to be worn in the seats or on the concourses. The press box and the suites behind the Penn State bench, both indoor structures, would call for masks.
Barbour said the university is “constantly making sure that it’s watching the landscape and watching the science and the statistics, and we will continue to do so.
“From a required vaccination standpoint, and I’m certainly speaking more broadly as it relates to campus, our campus leadership, our board, really felt like the position that we’ve taken is one that balances to the highest degree of health and safety as well as kind of personal choice and individual liberties, if you will,” she said.
Oregon and Oregon State announced Friday a vaccine mandate for university events. Starting Monday, all people 12 and older must show proof of their COVID-19 vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test – received within three days of the event, in order to attend designated university events and activities, including sporting events.
Barbour said Penn State would be able to adjust if the Center for Disease Control or local health officials felt mask-wearing should be required or capacities perhaps reduced because of a rise in cases. She noted the athletic department still has the plans for different capacity sizes from last year, when it was decided that only parents of players could attend home games.
She said university officials and the Big Ten are much better prepared to deal with COVID-19 than they were last year, when the conference released a football schedule for 2020 and then canceled the season before later deciding to go through with one after all.
“Given some of the resources and the expertise that we pulled in, the things we’ve learned, the things we know now from a science standpoint that we didn’t know then … there’s so much that’s different on that forward scale that’s better, that I do have a high degree of confidence,” she said.
Barbour said some gates have been expanded to facilitate the movement of fans coming into the stadium. She urged fans to arrive early and said stadium officials would do everything they could, including “playing games on the video board or incentivizing folks from a concessions standpoint,” to eliminate congestion at the gates.
She also said if fans would prefer to wear a mask in their seats, “certainly that’s encouraged.”
Barbour declined to disclose a vaccination rate for football players but said the rate in the athletic department counting players in all sports and Tier 1 employees stood at 82.2%. Tier 1 employees consist of coaches, athletic trainers, physical therapists, medical staff, equipment staff, and officials.
She said the figure does not include student-athletes who have received their first dose of vaccine but are still awaiting the second. She said she is confident the 82.2% rate will increase but noted that “this is the only time as a department that we will be talking about these figures.”
The Big Ten has not outlined a policy regarding conference football games that may not take place because of COVID-19 outbreaks on one team, but Barbour said it is her understanding the league will revert to “our regular forfeiture policy … if an institution is not able to essentially show for the game, that it will be a forfeit.”
Barbour said she has been encouraged by how the Tokyo Olympics managed to get through nearly three weeks of competition without major problems, and how Major League Baseball has handled large crowds during the 2021 season. She looks forward to getting back together with Penn State fans.
“We just have to be smart and understand that the virus is with us and we need to use our good judgment around that,” she said. “But come to Beaver Stadium and enjoy a football Saturday for the first time in a couple of years.”