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Iowa State will play football opener in empty stadium, reversing plan to allow 25,000 fans

Iowa State will open its season in an empty stadium. (David K Purdy/Getty Images)

Iowa State announced Wednesday that it has reversed its decision to allow approximately 25,000 fans into its football season opener against Louisiana on Sept. 12 and now will play the game in an empty stadium.

Athletic Director Jamie Pollard said in a statement that the reversal was handed down by Iowa State President Wendy Wintersteen after she received “feedback from the community.”

“Although it is disappointing there won’t be fans at the opener, our institution’s leadership team is still committed to having spectators at future games, if it can done safely,” Pollard said. “Weighing how our campus community responds to the recent surge in positive COVID cases will be a significant factor as to whether we can have fans at future games. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and make a decision regarding fans for the Oklahoma game (Oct. 3) at a later date.”

Iowa State was widely condemned for its initial decision to allow so many fans into the Cyclones’ home opener — 25,000 is about 41 percent of Jack Trice Stadium’s capacity — because the state of Iowa has seen its number of novel coronavirus cases skyrocket in recent weeks. According to The Washington Post’s state-by-state database, Iowa has seen an 81 percent increase in new coronavirus cases over the past week, the second-highest rise in the country behind South Dakota. Iowa’s seven-day average of new cases stands at 259 per 100,000 residents, also second highest behind South Dakota.

In Story County, home to Iowa State’s campus in Ames, the seven-day average of new cases per 100,000 residents is 843, one of the highest rates in the nation for a county. On Aug. 14, Story County’s number hovered around 50 new cases per 100,000 residents.

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Nonetheless, Pollard told reporters Monday that the school planned to “thread the needle” and allow its football stadium to be about 41 percent full for the Sept. 12 opener, with fans required to wear face coverings at all times and be spaced out throughout the stadium. Tailgating was not to be allowed.

“I’ll have personally zero, zero tolerance for any fan that doesn’t comply,” Pollard said Monday. “I don’t care how much money they give this institution; if you want to be in the stadium, you’re going to have to comply with what we put together. If you don’t do it, we don’t want you here.”

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The school arrived at 25,000 because that’s the number of season tickets it sells; had season ticket holders decided not to attend the game, their tickets will not have been resold.

During an Iowa State town hall meeting covered by the Iowa State Daily on Monday, Wintersteen said the school has no plans to end in-person learning despite the rising coronavirus numbers. She said the rise can be attributed to large off-campus social gatherings rather than on-campus transmission.

Wintersteen reported that of 1,749 tests performed during the semester’s second week, 503 were positive (28.8 percent). Those numbers did not include students who tested positive as part of the residence hall move-in process, the Daily reported.

A sizable chunk of Football Bowl Subdivision teams will attempt to play this season, but the Big Ten and Pac-12 will not. Many teams have said they will not allow fans at their season openers but have not made decisions about the rest of the year. Others are limiting attendance to between 20 and 25 percent of stadium capacity.

According to a list of school plans compiled by USA Today, Iowa State’s decision to allow its football stadium to be around 41 percent full would have been the highest planned capacity in the country.

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