With student-athletes returning to campus and the fall sports season just more than two months away, local universities are planning for all possibilities when it comes to athletics.
Among the biggest decisions departments will make is if, and how many, fans will be in attendance on Saturdays at football games this fall amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
With the Mid-American Intercollegiate Association likely leaving attendance decisions up to universities, who will work with local health officials, Northwest Missouri State and Missouri Western are preparing for their loyal fans to be on hand.
“In my mind, we’re either having games with people or we’re not having games,” Northwest athletics director Andy Peterson said. “Anything in between there doesn’t make sense at our level.”
Northwest announced on Monday that season tickets will go on sale beginning Wednesday to previous holders. Those interested in becoming new members must reach out to the athletic department for more information.
No single-game ticket information has been made available yet at Northwest. Every MIAA team will host five home games, as Division II lowered the maximum amount of football contests from 11 to 10 to combat the financial fallout from the coronavirus.
“Those five weeks a year, they’re not just big for us in athletics and the university, they’re big for the communities,” Peterson said. “I think part of our values is we’re not gonna jeopardize health and safety for competition, either.”
Morehouse College in Atlanta became the first Division II school to cancel football, while other lower-level programs have already taken the measure. Multiple Division I programs have announced intentions to welcome fewer fans.
“My opinion is that if it’s not safe enough to have fans in the stands, it’s not safe enough to play football,” Peterson said. “There’s probably a hard stop there. If we were to say we weren’t gonna have fans in the stands and locked the gates, there’s gonna be 1,000 people with their faces against the gates. In my mind, it doesn’t make sense to have regulations like that to hold back.”
At Missouri Western, season ticket sales have been ongoing and are reaching record levels. Western announced that the Gold Coat Club membership has seen a 95% renewal rate and an 18% surge in new memberships.
“Football without fans, while I would be open to it, would have a significant financial impact on how to operate next fall,” said Dr. Josh Looney, Missouri Western director of intercollegiate athletics. “I’d be lying to you if I told you the revenue for football at Missouri Western wasn’t important to how we operate.”
At Missouri Western, multiple sports gain money for their operating budget through working on game days doing concessions and other parts of the Saturday experience.
Single-game tickets will go on sale August 13, according to Missouri Western’s website.
“As we move closer to the 2020-21 academic year, we remain committed to hosting fans at our games,” Looney said. “Our intent is to play in front of a full stadium. We will follow local health guidelines and recommendations at that time and, if attendance alterations are necessary, Gold Coat members will receive priority access to tickets.”