Ohio State to begin allowing more fans at games after Big Ten loosens restrictions

Ohio State interviews (Oct. 19, 2020)

Ohio State could have a few more fans in the stands to watch sports this spring — including the spring football game.

The school announced Wednesday it will work with Columbus Public Health to develop policies to allow for expanded attendance at home venues.

That can be done after the Big Ten lifted its restrictions on conference schools hosting fans.

“In response to the Big Ten Conference announcement today regarding attendance policies at home athletics events for its member schools, the Ohio State Department of Athletics will work internally and with Columbus Public Health to formalize appropriate attendance figures, mapping and social distancing within our athletics venues and facilities,” OSU said in a release.

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Only family members of players and coaches have been allowed at Big Ten sporting events on campus since the conference lifted a postponement of all sporting events last fall.

Ohio State announced 1,344 were in attendance for its football seasonopener against Nebraska on Oct. 24, though that figure includes everyone in the stadium, including players, coaches and members of the media (among others).

After 1,275 were in the stadium for the game against Rutgers two weeks later, no spectators were allowed to attend the Nov. 21 game against Indiana as a result of an order from the local health departments for Columbus and Franklin County. That decision stemmed from rising COVID-19 case numbers at the time, and that turned out to be the final home football game of 2020 for the Buckeyes as the scheduled season finale against Michigan was canceled because of an outbreak in the Wolverines program.

Ohio State’s spring football game is tentatively scheduled for April 17, but the format has not been determined.

The Buckeyes could hold a formal game, as they have typically done, or hold an open practice, as some other schools do even in normal years.

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With many fall sports seasons delayed until this spring, Ohio State has 15 sports competing this weekend and weekend.

The baseball team is set to open an eight-game homestand this weekend while the softball team will also be at home for the first time.

The men’s and women’s soccer teams also have home games scheduled for this weekend, as do both volleyball squads.

However, Ohio State indicated those venues won’t be open to more more fans — yet.

“Once we have determined the attendance in our venues, beyond the current protocols of only family members of student-athletes and coaches, we will share that information,” the school said. “We do not anticipate any changes in our attendance policies before this weekend’s athletic events on campus.”

The state of Ohio allowed outdoor venues to host outdoor crowds of 1,500 or 15% capacity — whichever was smaller — last fall and winter, but variances were granted to multiple teams — including the Bengals and Browns — to host larger numbers.

Earlier this month, a new order from the state raised capacity to 30 percent for outdoor venues and 25 percent indoors, but the Big Ten’s policy would have prevented Ohio State from taking advantage of that change.

Now it will be up to local health departments throughout the conference’s footprint, a change in policy for games on campus that comes after a limited number of fans were allowed to attend the men’s and women’s basketball conference tournaments earlier this month in Indianapolis.

“The goal is to transition from a conference-wide approach to local decision-making in consultation with public health departments and university medical experts,” the league said. “Procedures for all remaining 2020-21 Big Ten championships, tournaments and regular season competitions will be designed to meet local and CDC guidelines to help limit the spread of COVID-19 as the health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches, officials, fans and campus communities remain our highest priority.”

Even last fall, the Big Ten’s attendance policy was more strict than some of its peers.

According to figures from the NCAA, Texas A&M of the SEC led the nation in football attendance last year with an average of 24,876 fans at four home games.

Thirteen SEC teams were among 28 college football teams averaged more than 10,000 fans per game, a group that included members of the ACC, Big 12, Conference-USA and Sun Belt Conference.

Forty-six men’s basketball teams averaged 1,000 fans or more at home games this winter.

Arkansas led the nation with 4,284 fans while seven other SEC teams averaged 2,000 or more fans per game.

Thirteen women’s basketball teams averaged at least 1,000 fans this season, led by the SEC’s South Carolina (3,500).

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