Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez said Thursday afternoon that the program expects to have fans back inside Camp Randall Stadium at some capacity for this fall’s season, according to a Wisconsin Football press release.
Alvarez noted that many variables remain before total capacity — if any at all — will be set in stone, but that the program is taking the preliminary steps to make game days a safe environment again for ticket holders and students.
“One thing for certain is that we will continue to prioritize your safety for 2021 and beyond,” Alvarez said. “We will follow industry-best practices for fan safety and well-being and will work diligently to ensure their successful implementation this fall.”
All Big Ten games were played without fans last fall, as Alvarez and the rest of the conference’s ADs considered it a necessary protocol for player safety during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Some schools allowed family into the stadiums, though individual program outbreaks hampered that throughout the year.
It appears that Big Ten teams will be on their own to decide protocols this fall, as Alvarez's message was not attached to any conference-wide announcement on Thursday. As of February, Wisconsin's 2021 non-conference games against Eastern Michigan, Notre Dame and Army are still on the schedule.
The league cancelled all non-conference opponents in 2021, (rightfully) cancelling interesting UW matchups against Notre Dame and Appalachian State. No makeup dates have been announced for those matchups, and with many college football teams already locking up non-conference matchups through the 2030(!) season, it seems unlikely that they'll ever be rescheduled.
When it comes to Big Ten football — in Madison, especially — it’s inarguable that the tailgate scene and the fans are a huge part of the environment. UW Head Coach Paul Chryst acknowledged the awkwardness of playing in an empty stadium after Wisconsin’s week one win over Illinois last October.
“[It] certainly was different tonight with no fans in the stands,” Chryst said postgame following a Wisconsins 45-7 victory. “That's obviously one of the best things we've got going here at Camp Randall.”
The players claimed they adjusted quickly to the fan-less environment, though it still made for some weird moments throughout the year. Quarterback Graham Mertz’s historic five-touchdown debut in week one was played in complete silence. Kicker Collin Larsh’s overtime game-winner over Minnesota in week eight didn’t feel nearly as dramatic as it should have, as he launched the ball into a platform of empty bleachers.
For the school, however, season ticket deposits will be a welcome site monetarily; Alvarez claimed the program was facing a $100 million loss for this year back in July, though it’s unknown where those figures sit now.
Season ticket sales will go on sale in mid-March.