With Michigan allowing football and men’s and women’s basketball student-athletes back on campus for voluntary workouts, eyes are now turning towards the result of that offseason training: a season. Still, for now, there are no answers on what a football season will look like.
“We’re working, and I hope that we can move forward and start competitions in the fall,” athletic director Warde Manuel said in a Zoom call with reporters on Thursday. “I’m hopeful that the decision will come towards the end of this month or early July.”
Currently, with programs across the country welcoming athletes back, the general consensus is that there will be a football season. The only question is what it will look like in terms of fan presence.
“I can tell you it won’t be normal,” Manuel said. “We won’t have 110,000 people in Michigan stadium this year. That’s a definitive. Will it be 50 percent or 30 percent or 20 percent or 10 or 0, I’m not sure. That’ll be a combination of listening to our public health officials on the capacity our stadium can handle given the direction that is put out by the governor’s office or the university.”
Governor Greg Abbott of Texas is allowing stadiums to hold 50 percent of their capacity, despite health officials warning of its dangers. Michigan, though, responded to COVID-19 in a much stronger manner than Texas, and it’s unlikely that Michigan Stadium will hold 50,000 people on a Saturday this year, despite the rate of new cases steadily declining over the past two months.
Still, Manuel emphasized throughout his Zoom call the fluidity of the situation, and the past three weeks have proven that statement to be true. With massive protests for racial justice across the country congregating large amounts of people, the results of those gatherings and the transmission of COVID-19 will become clearer, perhaps educating officials on the amount of fans allowed safely within a stadium.
“As soon as we have more definitive answers about the season, what it’ll look like, those types of things,” Manuel said. “Then we can implement many of the different models we have in place for ticketing, operations and participation.”
Football makes up a large part of the athletic department’s revenue and the loss of any ticket sales will have massive repercussions for its operating budget, with the consequences unknown.
For now, though, the resocialization of student-athletes brings the promise of fall sports and football. In late June or July, we’ll know what it’ll look like.