Penn State Football: Barron Talks Stadium Attendance Amid COVID-19 Concerns
Penn State President Eric Barron doesn't see Beaver Stadium or any athletics facility coming close to full capacity, he said during a virtual town hall for university faculty and staff on Monday.
"We have athletes that are beginning to return," Barron said. "That is not a message on what to expect in the fall. That’s a message on our concern that should we be able to return to the field of play, that our athletes are physically fit, have had appropriate nutrition and we’re not putting them at risk because of a last-minute decision."
Penn State is currently in the second phase of returning student-athletes to campus after beginning that process in early June. The first phase included roughly 75 football players while the second phase includes more football players as well as members of both the men's and women's basketball teams.
Doing this process athletes undergo COVID-19 screening, testing and a brief quarantine period and limited interactions with the outside world. The athletic department has yet to report a positive test during this process but also has not indicated that it would make such results public.
In either case the national conversation continues as it pertains to not only the return of sporting events but also the size of the crowds allowed to view those events live. While various colleges have announced broad — but largely detail free —intentions over the past several weeks, none of have announced definitive plans for crowd sizes during the upcoming season.
Similarly, Iowa University announced on Monday that it will pause season ticket renewals and season ticket sales in preparation for limited attendance.
"The topic of the sports activities is an active one nationally," Barron added. "It’s an active one at the university. It’s very active in the Big Ten. I have heard, so far, of no university that intends to have a full stadium coming into the fall, but rather most are planning for a highly restricted attendance. The Big Ten is thinking very carefully about sharing of information and having like rules so we can make sure our athletes are safe should they be playing another team.
"We’ll see more about this in the future as Big Ten presidents, for example, continue to meet to discuss exactly what our plans are for a safe return to athletics. But I will tell you none of us have any intention of having a massive number of individuals that then provide the opportunity to spread COVID to different communities."
During a town hall for students later in the afternoon, Barron said having a large crowd could potentially become a "super-spreader" event.
Most schools, he said, are also considering electronic ticketing, cashless payment systems on site, social distancing measures and special sanitation procedures.
As of Monday night Penn State officials have not publicly discussed actual numbers regarding what a Beaver Stadium crowd might look like and have also made no public statements in relation to ticket holders who have already renewed or purchased season ticket packages. Both processes are still ongoing. Generally speaking Penn State has seen ticket renewals in the 90-96% range.
The state of Pennsylvania has offered no guidance yet as it pertains to fall sports and events that normally draw larger crowds. The PA Department of Health currently calls for facilities to be no more than 50% full and not exceeding groups of more than 250 people within those buildings. While not explicitly stated, this guidance is generally focused more on the likes of the Lasch Football Building than Beaver Stadium.
Coincidentally, Penn State is currently working players out on the indoor field of Holuba Hall instead of the Lasch weight room in order to minimize close quarters contact.
Penn State is 75 days from opening kick.
StateCollege.com's Geoff Rushton contributed to this report.