COVID-19 convinces KU to open football, three other sports seasons without fans in attendance

By: - August 31, 2020 3:31 pm
Bleachers at the University of Kansas' football stadium will remain empty for the Jayhawks' scheduled home game in September due to concern about spread of the COVID-19 virus. Kansas State University is moving ahead with plans to limit seating at home to 25% of capacity. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Bleachers at the University of Kansas’ football stadium will remain empty for the Jayhawks’ scheduled home game in September due to concern about spread of the COVID-19 virus. Kansas State University is moving ahead with plans to limit seating at home to 25% of capacity. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

LAWRENCE — The University of Kansas football team will play the September home opening game in an empty stadium following the decision to abandon plans for limited seating of fans in the bleachers, KU officials said Monday.

The same prohibition recommended by KU’s health advisory panel will apply to the Jayhawks’ home events in volleyball, soccer and cross country during September.

“We know this is disappointing to those of you who planned to be on campus to root for the Jayhawks,” said Doug Girod, the chancellor at KU. “Our football, volleyball, soccer and cross country contests will not be the same without you there. But this is the right decision for our community at this time.”

Reversing course for the football game Sept. 12 reflected apprehension about public health risks of thousands of people clustering at Memorial Stadium during the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus is a factor in death of 450 people in Kansas, 4,500 in the four states neighboring Kansas and 180,000 across the country.

Girod said the university administration would revisit the ban on fans at football games before the Oct. 3 game against Oklahoma State University.

People with tickets to these KU sports events will be contacted by the athletics department, the chancellor said.

The prohibition on live attendance for the contest against Coastal Carolina is likely to further damage KU’s sports budget in terms of ticket revenue and private donations. It also could be a blow to Lawrence businesses accustomed to heavy out-of-town foot traffic on football game days.

Originally, KU expected one-fourth of seats at Memorial Stadium to be available for occupancy during home games. That meant approximately 12,000 Jayhawks could be strategically scattered throughout a facility capable of accommodating four times that total.

KU required all students, faculty and staff to undergo testing for the virus at start of in-person fall semester classes. So far, more than half the 474 people known to be infected reside in KU fraternities or sororities.

The Kansas State University football program plans to host fans — a fraction of the normal crowd — for the September home opener. The University of Kansas is banning fans for its first game in September. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
The Kansas State University football program plans to host fans — a fraction of the normal crowd — for the September home opener. The University of Kansas is banning fans for its first game in September. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

The Big 12 Conference decided the football season would proceed despite action by the Pac-10, Big Ten and Mountain West conferences to skip the fall season. Big 12 officials left to member universities to duty of crafting game attendance policies based on local government guidance.

The Riley County Commission recently endorsed the plan proposed by Kansas State University allowing about 15,000 people — roughly 25% of capacity — to attend home football games this fall in Manhattan.

There will be no tailgating in the stadium’s parking lots and people attending games must wear a face mask and maintain social distancing.

“We understand that this season is unlike any other we have ever experienced, but we are going to make Bill Snyder Family Stadium as safe as possible for those who attend beginning September 12,” said Gene Taylor, the KSU athletics director.

On Friday, KSU officials said seven football players tested positive for COVID-19. Practices have continued in preparation for the team’s opener Sept. 12 against Arkansas State.

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.

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