Ohio State Could Welcome 'Up to 50,000' Fans at Football Games This Fall

Up to 50,000 fans could attend Ohio State home games despite the novel coronavirus pandemic, the school's athletic director, Gene Smith, said on Wednesday.

Like its professional counterparts, the future of collegiate leagues is up in the air as the COVID-19 outbreak continues to wreak havoc across the U.S., with over 1.5 million cases reported as of Thursday morning.

As is the case for the NFL, the NCAA is hopeful the college football season can get underway as scheduled late this summer, albeit both leagues will in all likelihood have to do so behind closed doors to minimize the risk of infection.

Smith, however, believes the Buckeyes would be able to host between 20,000 to 22,000 fans while adhering to social distancing measures put in place by the U.S. Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC) and up to 40,000 to 50,000 spectators if "guidelines are relaxed."

With a capacity of 102,870, Ohio Stadium is the third-largest stadium in the U.S. but Smith explained the university had considered different social distancing models, which would allow the Buckeyes to host fans at games this fall.

"We're fortunate, with 100,000 seats in the stadium," he was quoted as saying by ESPN. "So could we implement the current CDC guidelines, state guidelines around physical distancing, mask requirements and all those types of things in an outdoor environment and have obviously significantly less fans than we are used to? I think it's possible.

"I just feel like we have the talent and skill and space capacity to provide an opportunity for a certain number of fans to have access to our particular stadium. Of course, that wouldn't be true across the country because of capacity. But I think we can get there."

As with a number of other U.S. states, Ohio has slowly begun to take steps to reopen. Last week outdoor dining options were allowed to resume operations, while indoor dining businesses will reopen from May 21, but will have to limit parties to 10 or less people and maintain either a six feet gap or a physical barrier between guests.

Speaking to CNN's State of the Union program on Sunday night, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said "we're going to do whatever we have to do" if crowds are seen to be forming where social distancing guidelines remain in place.

On Tuesday, Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the CDC Director, said that while U.S. states were ready to reopen, the threat of a second wave of infection coinciding with the traditional influenza season in the fall loomed large.

As of Thursday morning, over 1.55 million cases of coronavirus have been reported in the U.S., by far the highest tally of any country in the world.

Over 93,400 deaths have been recorded in the U.S. and over 294,000 people have recovered, according to Johns Hopkins University, which has been tracking the outbreak using combined data sources.

More than 328,000 people have died globally since the outbreak of coronavirus was first identified in Wuhan, a city located in China's central Hubei province, late last year. There have been over five million confirmed cases globally.

Ohio State Buckeyes
Fans rush the field after the Ohio State Buckeyes defeated the Penn State Nittany Lions 28-17 at Ohio Stadium on November 23, 2019 in Columbus, Ohio. Jamie Sabau/Getty