The momentum is unmistakable. And it’s been a long time coming.
At this point, based on everything else happening in the sporting landscape across the country and the decreasing COVID-19 rates, anything other than a full Ohio Stadium in the fall would be a surprise.
The Columbus Clippers, a Triple-A baseball team in the Buckeyes’ home town, became the latest to open up their stadium on Tuesday, announcing that they’ll allow a 100 percent capacity crowd beginning on June 15. The two MLB teams in the state – the Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds – will both be back to full capacity on June 2.
The NFL revealed on Tuesday that 30 of 32 teams have already been approved to host games at capacity this year. In the world of college football, various teams including Texas, South Carolina, Iowa State and Boise State have already said they’re planning to be at full capacity this fall. Within the Big Ten, most haven’t announced their plans yet, but Maryland said this week that it’ll be back to maximum capacity in all sports in 2021-22.
Even with others going on the record with their intentions, Ohio State hasn’t been willing to make a final decision on the capacity of the football stadium for games in the fall. Not yet, at least.
Part of the reasoning behind that is the amount of time still remaining until the opener. Ninety-nine days remain until the football team kicks off the season at Minnesota, and 108 days are left until it plays a home game in Columbus.
“We have a lot of time to go, so that gives me my hope and, actually, confidence that we'll get there,” athletic director Gene Smith said on the latest episode of Real Pod Wednesdays.
Smith offered a conservative estimate, saying the school should have an answer as to whether it’ll welcome a 100 percent capacity crowd to Buckeye home games “somewhere in the early August time frame.”
Ohio State could learn the answer to that question before then, but it doesn't need to rush to make an announcement. After all, it would be a worse public relations hit to announce games will be at 100 percent capacity then be forced to unexpectedly cap attendance rather than to wait longer than some others to ensure a full Ohio Stadium will be possible.
The more time that passes, however, the more the idea of 100,000-plus fans in the Shoe in September seems like it’ll soon be a reality. Importantly, Ohio governor Mike DeWine expressed optimism in packed college football stadiums earlier this month, noting the number of COVID-19 cases expected to drop over the next few months – specifically looking at the two-week rate of cases per 100,000 residents.
Smith said he doesn’t have specific numbers he’s looking at that’ll dictate whether or not Ohio Stadium can reach capacity.
“That's a hard one for me to say a number and the number of vaccinations in our state or in our community, like Franklin County or whatever,” Smith said. “We know that we can't have spikes. The number of COVID cases is going down. We need it to continue to do that. We can't have stress among hospitals, and obviously we don't want to certainly lose life. So that needs to continue to stay going downward, and then vaccinations going up. I don't know what that number is. It would be hard for me to project at this point in time.”
Much of Smith’s hope in filling Ohio Stadium stems from vaccines and the part they’ve played in curbing the spread of coronavirus.
Soon, he said, the athletic department will create a campaign led by the coaches and athletes to encourage Ohioans to get vaccinated. He hopes it’ll lead to “little bit of an uptick” in the number of those who get inoculated.
“My position is that if we can have full stadiums, hopefully a supermajority are vaccinated, but those who aren't, there's an assumption of risk,” Smith said. “That's a part of life in everything we do. That's what I'm hopeful for. And it's outdoors. The CDC and everyone else has already relaxed the guidelines around masking outdoors.
“I'm just hoping things continue to cascade in that direction, and my confidence is pretty high if we can keep that going.”