football fans

Marshall fans cheer on the Herd as they take on Western Kentucky during a C-USA football game on Oct. 26, 2019, at Joan C. Edwards Stadium in Huntington.

HUNTINGTON — With players returning to campus for voluntary workouts, Marshall athletic director Mike Hamrick is now looking at fan scenarios for a potential 2020 season.

Any plan is contingent on the NCAA moving forward with the football season, but Hamrick said that should there be a season, Marshall will have a plan in place, no matter what decision is made.

Among the contingencies being outlined is one where the stadium would have fans, but the stadium would have to maintain social distancing standards, which would cut its capacity.

Hamrick said on Saturday that, under such a scenario, priority for admission to 2020 Marshall football contests would be given to season ticket holders.

“If you are a fan out there, because of the coronavirus, the best way to see Marshall football is to be a season ticket holder because you will get first priority,” Hamrick said. “We’re working the numbers and measuring the distance between seats, but it would likely allow 15,000 to 18,000 people in the stadium.”

Hamrick said that, given the numbers of season ticket holders, player families and students, there may not be many tickets left over after those allotments are filled.

“With season tickets and player families, you are looking in the range of 12,000 to 13,000 people there and we obviously want to give students an opportunity, too,” Hamrick said. “There’s a possibility that, if we have to social distance the stadium and you are not a season ticket holder, you may not have the opportunity to see the game in-person.”

Hamrick said that scenario is one of many being spoken of within the ranks of Marshall’s administration.

He has met with Scott Morehouse, the associate athletic director of game events and facilities, team doctors and university safety personnel about plans for the upcoming season.

Those plans include normal seating, having regular capacity with all fans required to wear masks and modified seating in which some sections are normal but others adhere to social distancing for higher-risk fans to sit in (elderly, pre-existing conditions, families with children, etc.).

Of course, there are also two worst-case scenarios which include the season being canceled altogether or games being played with no fans in the stadium.

“There’s so many scenarios out there, and no one knows what the guidelines are going to be in September,” Morehouse said. “Is everyone going to have to stay six feet? Does everyone have to wear masks? Right now, if we are six feet apart, it is going to be extremely difficult and we are working through that.”

The scenario requiring limited capacity and social distancing guidelines within the stadium seems to have the most steam behind it, which lends importance with Marshall’s season-ticket renewal deadline set for Friday (May 29).

Hamrick added that purchasing season tickets for the 2020 season is a risk-free option, as well.

If the 2020 season does not happen due to COVID-19, fans would be able to get a full refund, put the amount of purchase toward the 2021 season or even turn that money into a donation to the Big Green Scholarship Foundation, if they so choose.

“If people buy a season ticket and they don’t get to see the games, if they desire a refund, they will get a refund,” Hamrick said.

Hamrick said that Marshall’s plight is no different than any others around college football, citing Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith’s announcement earlier this week that games at Ohio Stadium may see a capacity of 30,000 people instead of the 100,000-plus the stadium normally gets on a college football Saturday.

In addition to fan seating, Hamrick and Morehouse said discussions are also taking place in regards to entrance and exit strategies for fans, concourse management, concession management and tailgating, which is a big factor for fans on game-day.

“It isn’t just the stands,” Morehouse said. “It is the concourse, it’s ticket lines, concession lines, lines for the elevator for suite-holders. You know, tailgating? What do you do with that?”

“We have to work on getting them in and out safely and logistics around the stadium,” Hamrick said. “Those are things we will address, but again, it’s a fluid situation. There’s no playbook for any of this. We’re working through it and our athletics personnel are all committed to ensuring safety.”