Ohio State is modeling a concept that would allow about one-fifth of Ohio Stadium to be occupied during home football games for the 2020 season. Athletic director Gene Smith made the announcement during a Wednesday conference call with media.
"We have played a little bit with the social distancing concept," Smith said. "We know that will probably take us down south of 30,000 fans in the stands, actually closer to 20,000-22,000. We've played with that a little bit as a framework to start."
At a capacity of more than 102,000 fans, Ohio Stadium is the third-largest college football venue in the country. Smith had previously noted that the Buckeyes' athletic department could lose as much as $50 million if Ohio Stadium opened without fans for an entire seven-game home season.
Since then, Smith has been able to consider Ohio State's options to fill the stadium with a limited audience. Previously, Miami Dolphins CEO and president Tom Garfinkel said his franchise was looking at a social distancing model that would allow a maximum of 15,000 fans in the 65,000-seat Hard Rock Stadium.
"I think it's learning," Smith said. "This is a process. What was beautiful for me, every morning we have Big Ten AD calls. Just the feedback between one another and colleagues … In the beginning, none of us had a position on anything. Now, I've shifted to being curious."
Smith added that players will be welcomed back on campus for voluntary workouts beginning June 8, pending a formal announcement of Wednesday's vote by the NCAA Council. The has reportedly lifted an NCAA moratorium on athletic activities that lasts until May 31, allowing football, men's basketball and women's basketball to bring athletes back to campus for voluntary workouts in June.
"Could we implement the current CDC guidelines, the state guidelines around physical distancing in an outdoor environment and obviously have significantly less fans? I think is possible," Smith said.
Little mention was made of how those tickets would be distributed with so many disparate fan groups – families of the program, students, season ticket holders, donors and suite holders
Smith said the school's "point system has stood the test of time." Typically, schools award better seats to those who contribute large amounts to the school.
College football stakeholders have made clear the season could begin without all the conferences -- or all the teams within those conferences -- participating.
"You would hope there would be a national consistency to that, and it ties into the postseason in some form or fashion," Smith said, "and the selection criteria changes and accommodates that national solution."
If an entire season cannot be played, Smith favors a conference schedule of "nine or 10 games." Big Ten teams normally play a nine-game conference schedule.
"This is, for a few young men, their last opportunity," Smith said. "If we can give them that chance, I want to bend over backwards to give them that chance."