College football is just around the corner, but there’s still a major question mark that remains — how will fans in the stands be handled?
A number of teams already have answers. But for USF, a plan is still in the works.
It was announced via an open letter from Vice President of Athletics Michael Kelly that fans would not be allowed at the season opener against The Citadel.
USF is planning to allow fans at the remaining home games, starting with the homecoming game against East Carolina on Oct. 10. There is no word on whether tailgating will be allowed.
“The number of fans we will be able to welcome to Raymond James Stadium this fall and the measures put in place to provide a safe and enjoyable experience will be communicated soon,” Kelly wrote.
Fans who are season-ticket holders will be prioritized when single-game tickets go on sale.
Local officials and Tampa Sports Authority, the company that manages Raymond James Stadium, will hold a stake in the final say on whether fans are allowed in for games.
Nothing is set in stone, but the numbers are likely going to be low, according to the Tampa Sports Authority — likely one-third of the average USF attendance.
In early August, the Tampa Sports Authority estimated that 10,000 spectators would be allowed at the stadium that seats 65,000. USF games averaged around 32,000 fans last season.
Those numbers could change, however, as the Tampa Sports Authority was conservative with its estimate.
“With all the uncertainty during these unprecedented times, all we can do is make conservative estimates,” Bobby Silvest, vice president of marketing and communications, told the Tampa Bay Times. “We don’t know what capacity will be for Bucs or USF at this time.”
For USF’s rivals up Interstate 4, UCF will allow 25 percent capacity at The Bounce House for the Knights’ first home game on Oct. 3. Florida will also play its home opener Oct. 3 and will allow 20 percent capacity. FSU is limiting Doak Campbell Stadium to 20-25 percent capacity.
Since the Tampa Sports Authority’s estimate, the Tampa Bay Bucs announced they wouldn’t have fans at their first two home games Sept. 20 and Oct. 4.
Plans are still being finalized to create a coronavirus-resistant atmosphere, and the month delay before fans are expected to attend gives USF and the Tampa Sports Authority more time to create a water-tight gameday procedure.
In July, The Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners approved plans to allocate $10.4 million to upgrade Raymond James Stadium with coronavirus-related precautions.
Those upgrades aren’t scheduled to be completed until Oct. 31, however, and by that point, USF will have already played seven of its 11-game schedule.
For fans who don’t feel comfortable attending live games, other options are on the table.
Thanks to a 12-year deal between the American and ESPN signed last March, all AAC games will be available on ESPN’s primary TV networks — ABC, ESPN, ESPN 2 and ESPNU. Select games will be shown on ESPN+.
On the airwaves, all USF games will be broadcast on the BullsUnlimited digital radio network and 95.3 WDAE.