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Amid Coronavirus Concerns, Fan-Less Spring Game Not Yet Option

March 07, 2020

On Friday, Nebraska governor Pete Ricketts announced Nebraska had its first coronavirus disease patient, a 36-year-old Omaha woman who recently returned from an overseas trip to the United Kingdom. Previously, the University of Nebraska Medical Center had been treating 13 patients diagnosed with the COVID-19 illness, but those individuals were brought to UNMC for treatment after being diagnosed elsewhere.

What has become a global outbreak has largely been confined to the coasts in the United States, but everyone is making preparations as more and more cases pop up. Sporting events, from the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, are having to be careful.

University officials, along with representatives for the Nebraska athletic department, had discussions Friday centered around university prevention and response to potential contamination. Among the issues discussed: Nebraska football’s spring game on April 18.

“These conversations are occurring on campus. I have representatives there keeping me tuned in,” Husker Athletic Director Bill Moos told Hail Varsity Friday. “Certainly we are tuned in to what is happening on the national picture, so no decisions have been made at this point, but we are in conversations and discussions.”

The New York Times is reporting the global total for coronavirus cases has reached six figures, with the known number of US-based cases totaling 306.

Sports federations last week held a conference call with the World Health Organization about holding a 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo without any fans in attendance, according to The Times.

The Italian government on Wednesday announced all sporting events in the country, one hit hardest by the COVID-19 outbreak, would be held without fans in attendance. The country’s top-flight soccer league, Serie A, has already played several matches without fans, and will continue to do so until at least April 3.

The NBA, according to Stadium’s Shams Charania, sent a memo to teams around the league urging them to “(prepare) to play games without fans in attendance” days after encouraging players to fist-bump with fans instead of high-fiving.

The NCAA is, at the very least, having a conversation about holding men’s and women’s basketball tournament games without fans. “Today we are planning to conduct our championships as planned,” NCAA Chief Operating Officer Donald Remy said in a statement released Tuesday. “However, we are evaluating the COVID-19 situation daily and will make decisions accordingly.”

Nebraska is doing the same.

So, with spring football beginning on Monday, March 9, and the Huskers gearing up for a heavily-attended spring scrimmage that will be broadcast on BTN on April 18, is there a chance the Nebraska athletic department follows in the footsteps of other sporting leagues around the globe?

“I don’t see that at this point, no,” Moos said when asked directly if the Red-White Game could be played without fans in attendance.

Moos said on his monthly Sports Nightly radio appearance on Feb. 26 the Huskers had sold nearly 60,000 tickets for the spring game, which is off the sell-out pace of the previous two seasons, but still stronger than most other programs around the country. Preventing fans from attending might prove a logistical nightmare for Husker officials.

Things can obviously change over the course of the next month, and Nebraska will continue to monitor the situation with input from university health professionals, but such a drastic change isn’t on the table at this point.

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