K-State Athletics officials plan to meet with Riley County health officials to discuss a new health order that appears to prevent plans to open Bill Snyder Family Stadium for the still-planned football season.
The order, issued by Riley County Health Department director Julie Gibbs on Tuesday, was enacted to try to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. Much of the order, which went into effect Thursday, centers around mandating that people at bars, patios and restaurants must remain seated.
But it also affects K-State’s seating-capacity plans for the 2020 football season.
That’s because the order prohibits indoor and outdoor venues that can hold more than 2,000 people from opening. Bill Snyder Family Stadium has a seating capacity of 50,000.
K-State athletics director Gene Taylor told The Mercury that as of Wednesday afternoon, no one in his office had spoken with Gibbs or other county health officials.
“We plan on walking them through what we would like to do and see what they say,” Taylor said in a phone interview. “But we haven’t done it yet.”
Taylor said he wasn’t given a heads-up about the order prior to Gibbs’ announcement Tuesday. But he said the health department and the university maintain an open line of communication.
“They obviously have a lot of connections with our university and the president’s office, and I think there’s pretty regular weekly — if not daily — meetings,” Taylor said. “The university has a COVID task force group and I think somebody from Riley County — I think Julie Gibbs — is on those calls, I believe. So there’s pretty regular communication from the university, but I’m not on those calls.”
Taylor repeatedly has asserted that he hopes fans are permitted to attend K-State football games in 2020; what percentage may be allowed, and how many total spectators that might entail, still is up in the air.
“We’re planning for all scenarios,” Taylor told The Mercury in May. “We’d love to be able to put as many fans in there as we can.”
“The plan is to have football,” Myers said during a Zoom call hosted by the school’s alumni association. “The plan right now is to have it with fans. (Athletics director) Gene Taylor will announce later what percentage of our stadium we would want to fill under these conditions.”
Taylor said Wednesday that his department still has “a couple of plans we’re working on” as far as football attendance.
“We wanted to see where the county was going with things before we presented them the plans,” he said. “Now with this most recent order, we’ll probably try to find a time to sit down with them and walk them through our various seating plans and capacity plans and see what needs to happen. But we haven’t done that yet.”
It can’t be put off much longer, though.
“The biggest thing is, at some point soon, we’re going to need to make a determination so our fans will know what options we have,” Taylor said. “But with the current order, it’s not in the mix. That doesn’t mean it can’t change between now and September, though. So we’ll sit down with them at some point and see what they’re thinking.”
In terms of Taylor’s own thinking about the potential of staging a football season in the middle of a pandemic, he’s trying “to be as even-keeled” as possible.
“Because you don’t want to overreact,” he said. “I think the Big 12 is taking a good approach with it by waiting as long as you can before you make any major comments or changes.”
The Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences announced earlier this month that they plan on playing league-only schedules this fall. The ACC announced its own plans Wednesday: 10 conference games, plus one non-conference contest, for all schools in the league. (Notre Dame, a football independent, is being included as a conference member for 2020; it already participates in the ACC in other major sports, including men’s and women’s basketball.)
After the ACC’s strategy became public, news of the SEC’s potential plan also began to leak. SEC athletics directors met earlier this week, and reportedly were ready to present a conference-only schedule to the 14 presidents and chancellors at its member schools. Those presidents and chancellors are slated to meet Thursday morning.
The Big 12 has remained steadfast in its aim to try to complete all 12 regular-season games this fall.
Taylor hopes that comes to pass.
He’s just not as optimistic as he once was.
“As I’ve seen more and more conferences across the country — now granted, they’re not Power 5 conferences canceling things or postponing them — I get a little more pessimistic,” he said. “But I think the power conferences are still trying to move forward. They’re going to try to do what they can to have a fall season. Is it 12 games in football? Or 10 or nine? We’ll see. But I think the good news is we’re trying to move forward and trying to make sure we play some games this fall.”