CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Based on the new regulations for phase four of the "Restore Illinois" plan, athletics officials at University of Illinois are more than hopeful to have football fans in the stands.
Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker’s administration released safety guidance for the state’s next phase of reopening Monday afternoon. Part of those guidelines included a line what they're calling “outdoor seated spectator events”, which has athletics officials inside the University of Illinois thinking fans at football games inside Memorial Stadium is possible.
“At first blush, that seems to be what it says,” a source inside the U of I athletics department said. “We’re still taking a closer look at the guidelines and comparing them to plans we were already talking about.”
According to Pritzker’s plan for phase four of the state’s reopening plan, which also allows indoor restaurant services, gyms and museums to open with capacity limits beginning possibly Friday, outdoor spectator sports can resume with no more than 20 percent of seating capacity.
Notable changes for Phase 4 of the coronavirus reopening plan include the expansion of several industries, including indoor dining at restaurants, health and fitness, movies and theaters, museums and zoos.. This next phase also increases the size of gatherings that are allowed from 10 people to a maximum of 50 people. Pritzker said Monday he expects all counties in Illinois to be in phase four of this reopening plan by this weekend.
“Over the last four months, Illinoisans have pulled together with the common mission of keeping each other safe. By staying home and practicing social distancing, the rate of new COVID-19 cases continues to drop and each region throughout the state is prepared to move to Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois plan," Pritzker said in a statement. "Science and data are the overarching guardrails for how Illinois will keep moving forward. By continuing to wear face coverings and following the guidance from health experts we can continue to safely reopen our economy and move forward together."
A source inside the University of Illinois athletics department confirmed to Illini Now/Sports Illustrated the “outdoor spectator sports” provision of Pritzker’s plan was immediately on Monday being compared by athletics leadership to the multiple plans the school had already devised. However, that line in Pritzker’s plan has brought in hope that Memorial Stadium could have 20 percent capacity of fans as long as the rates for the state’s COVID-19 positive cases, hospitalizations and death rates doesn’t regress it into a previous reopening stage.
Fan capacity at Memorial Stadium in Champaign is listed at 60,670 and 20 percent of that total would supposedly allow for 12,152 fans in the stands during the state’s stage four reopening plan.
In May, the Illinois Division of Intercollegiate Athletics announced a plan to have their facilities set to reopen for student-athletes for the current voluntary summer workouts being conducted this month. The release confirming the plans for the reopening of athletics facilities said U of I athletics officials were consulting with the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District, Carle physicians, the McKinley Health Center, SHIELD (the university’s committee tasked with developing coronavirus testing protocols for the U of I campus) and the Big Ten Conference.
When announcing this plan to have athletes back on campus in June, Illinois athletics director Josh Whitman declined to comment on what fan experiences at Illinois could look like starting in the fall.
“We need to understand that this is a different time,” Whitman said in May. “We need to continue to allow people to make choices that are in their own best interests and in the best interests of their health and the health of the people around them. I can’t say enough good things about (the Illinois coaches and athletics administration), from the first day that we started having immediate and dramatic changes as a result of the pandemic back in March they have been quick to set aside personal agendas, to set aside their competitive juices (and) to really prioritize our community’s health, their health and our student-athlete’s health.”
The University of Illinois educational system announced earlier this month via a letter to the public that the Champaign-Urbana campus was planning for on-campus, in-person classes for the upcoming fall semester. The letter, authored by University of Illinois chancellor Robert Jones, president, University of Illinois System Tim Killeen, Illinois executive vice president and vice president for academic affairs of the U of I system Barbara Wilson, Robert J. Jones, University of Illinois at Chicago chancellor Michael D. Amiridis, University of Illinois at Springfield chancellor Susan J. Koch, University of Illinois at Springfield interim chancellor Karen M. Whitney, set the stage for Illinois athletics, such as football, volleyball and soccer to plan for an on-time start.
“Our scientists are piloting cutting-edge testing procedures for the COVID-19 virus that are accurate, cost-effective and scalable to the whole university community and provide same-day results,” the public letter from the previously mentioned six administrators reads. “The pandemic is still evolving, so our plans will be flexible and nimble. We will monitor campus safety and the latest guidance on the virus, and will adjust plans as needed to protect the well-being of our students, faculty, staff and the communities we call home.”