Any West Virginia University football fan wanting to watch the Mountaineers’ season opener against Eastern Kentucky won’t be watching it from the seats at Milan Puskar Stadium.
WVU announced Thursday morning that no spectators — outside of essential personnel and families of players and staff — will be allowed in the stadium for the football team’s Sept. 12 game. The university decided to close the stadium because of concerns regarding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are disappointed that we will not be able to allow fans to attend the Sept. 12 home game, but we are working diligently to open our gates for Big 12 Conference play,” WVU athletic director Shane Lyons said in a news release. “It is our goal to have fans at Milan Puskar Stadium this season, but right now, that is not possible for the EKU game.”
Broadcast information and kickoff time for the EKU game will be announced at a later date.
As for the rest of the season — WVU has five Big 12 home games on the schedule, starting with Baylor on Oct. 3 — that remains up in the air. The university said it will announce that decision in the future, based on local public health conditions at the time.
West Virginia is among the states with the fewest total COVID-19 cases. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, last updated Wednesday, West Virginia’s total of 8,731 is eighth lowest among the states.
Yet Monongalia County, which includes WVU’s home city of Morgantown, is one of the West Virginia counties with the most COVID-19 cases. Monongalia has 997 confirmed cases, second only to Kanawha County’s 1,146 in the Mountain State.
The university announced Thursday evening that six students would receive sanctions under the WVU Student Code of Conduct for either holding or attending house parties last weekend.
WVU wide receiver Bryce Ford-Wheaton offered a reminder on Twitter of what people could do to ensure fans are allowed back into the stadium.
“If you want to attend football games later this season,” he wrote, “start with wearing a mask and not having 100+ people in a house party.”
WVU’s move comes as other universities are announcing stadium capacities for their games this fall. On Wednesday, Georgia Tech and Auburn announced 20% capacity for home games in 2020, while WVU’s Big 12 compatriot Kansas State announced that it would have 25% capacity and require fans to wear face coverings.
George Vieweg has been a member of Charleston’s WVU Fan Club for more than three decades. He said he makes it to as many home games as he can each season and goes to at least one road game. Being shut out of the EKU game, he said, isn’t as disappointing as it would be if he were shut out of a Big 12 game. He added that he expects to see 20% to 25% capacity at the stadium this season but that he’s interested to see how many fans will make it through the gates.
“There’s going to be several thousand students that will eat into that,” he said. “You’re going to have a pep band that will eat into that. You’re going to have staff members and faculty who have priority. And our donors are entitled to consideration along those lines. Our donor class has certainly expanded in the last 10 years. We’ve gotten people to donate six and seven figures on a regular basis.”
Vieweg is waiting to see what WVU will decide for the rest of the schedule. So much will depend on what happens with the virus’ spread when all students return, he said.
“If you look at what’s going on with some other schools in the country — Michigan State, North Carolina, Notre Dame — it’s not being very selective,” he said. “The disease is very impartial. It doesn’t care about the conference you’re in.”
Lyons said WVU’s primary focus now is the start of classes and students’ safe return. How that is handled will go a long way into allowing fans to attend football games.
“I am hopeful that all of us will be aggressive in taking appropriate precautions to prevent the spread of this virus so that all parties can be comfortable allowing a percentage of fans to attend on Oct. 3 and beyond,” he said. “Until then, I ask for your understanding of the decisions that are being made and trust that we are doing everything we can to welcome Mountaineer Nation back to one of the best atmospheres in college football.”
Those who purchased 2020 season tickets soon will receive information from the Mountaineer Athletic Club and Mountaineer Ticket Office about options for allocating their season ticket investment for any remaining home games that allow spectators.
Football season ticket holders from 2019 will maintain their ticket priority for 2021, regardless of their purchase status for this season.
Reach Derek Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org, 304-348-1712 or follow @derekredd on Twitter.