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Full Shoe this fall for Game 1?
— J.C. Speiser (@JCSpeiser) April 27, 2021
There will be fans again in the Horseshoe this fall, that seems to be a virtual certainty.
Will Ohio State have the full complement of more than 100,000 folks providing a distinct home-field advantage against Oregon in September? That might still be a stretch at this moment, though optimism is growing and the projected number of available seats is climbing right along with it.
Ohio governor Mike DeWine provided the latest injection of excitement for the Buckeyes with his statement to the Toledo Blade on Friday morning which reiterated that the state doesn’t have a current capacity limit on outdoor events. That coupled with the trend of shrinking COVID case levels bodes well for bringing people back to Ohio Stadium and a return of the pageantry that makes college football so special.
“Currently, Ohio has no capacity limitation for outdoor events,” DeWine said in the statement. “Sporting event organizers do currently have protocols to social distance pods of no more than 10 persons. This is in line with our simplified mitigation protocols focused on distancing and masking [when one cannot socially distance, such as at crowded events like sporting events].
“Ohio has set a benchmark that we will remove COVID mitigation protocols when we drop below high case levels. This will happen when our two-week case rate drops below 50 cases per 100,000 residents. We believe this is likely to happen well before the start of football season, and the CDC echoed that optimism in statements this week.”
That growing confidence at a minimum means the Buckeyes can at least beginning making a plan to open every seat in the building back up for fans after the test run at roughly 20-percent of capacity for the spring game last month. But there are still a couple caveats to keep in mind right now.
No. 1: The state of Ohio wasn’t the one keeping fans out of the Horseshoe last season, since it was already approving limited crowds for sporting events — even in Columbus, where the Crew had supporters in the building for its run to the MLS Cup. The Big Ten issued a blanket ban across the league when it reinstated the season, electing to try to maintain a level playing field for all members instead of allowing each school to maximize whatever attendance was allowable locally. The league appears to have realized that’s not practical moving forward when it deferred attendance-policy decisions for spring games to each school in March. Obviously nothing is ever guaranteed with the conference leadership, but it’s worth a reminder that the Big Ten could again be involved in setting league-wide standards.
No. 2: Obviously the virus is unpredictable, so that means no promises about sellout crowds in the Horseshoe can be made in the first week of May. The caseload will have to continue to drop, and right now the trend is certainly encouraging thanks in large part to the rise in vaccines. For its part, Ohio State had made plans to help get the entire roster a vaccination during spring camp once it became available. And while it hasn’t revealed specifics of that process, that possibility was warmly greeted by a program that had to deal with the virus firsthand during the complicated finish to last season. The Buckeyes have made it crystal clear they want a full stadium again by September, and they’ve been doing everything possible for more than a year to allow for games to be played and fans to return to watch them.
“I know usually we’re used to 85,000 for a spring game, but even 20 [thousand] was nice,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said last month. “I know there was a huge demand with the students. I really appreciate the students coming out and doing their part even though it wasn’t as many out there as they would have liked. I know they sold a couple extra tickets, so I appreciate the students.
“I’m just hoping that thing is full when we come back against Oregon here in not too long.”
That possibility for the Buckeyes still seemed like a long-shot even as recently as a month ago.
It’s perhaps still not the betting favorite, but the odds are clearly improving.
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