Indiana baseball coach Jeff Mercer couldn’t hide his frustration after learning that IU wasn’t going to allow fans for a four-game May homestand during a critical stretch of the 2021 season.
Even after Monroe County had ended its local COVID-19 restrictions effective May 17, the school held firm on not allowing fans at its sporting events.
“It’s incredibly frustrating,” Mercer said. “Incredibly frustrating. … It’s frustrating that we’re not allowing fans beyond family at this point.”
Mercer’s squad would go on to lose three of the four games played at Bart Kaufman Field.
Already we have seen significant crowds, in some cases full or near-full capacity indoor crowds this month at NBA venues around the country. While IU seems intent on holding firm with regard to its position on fan attendance through the end of the 2020-21 athletic season, it is widely expected that will change when the 2021-22 athletic year commences.
There are several obstacles to fan attendance for games at IU, including the school, Monroe County, the state of Indiana and the Big Ten. As it relates to potential restrictions by the conference, a very promising sign emerged on Monday.
The University of Maryland announced in a release it was going back to full capacity for sporting events beginning in just a few months. It is a clear sign that as of right now, the league is leaving fan attendance decisions up to the schools.
“With Prince George’s County lifting all capacity and distancing restrictions for indoor and outdoor sporting venues, Maryland Athletics is pleased to welcome fans, at full capacity, back to its sporting events for all 2021-22 athletic seasons, including football and basketball next school year,” the school said in its release.
Indiana and Monroe County have already removed their primary obstacles to fan attendance at IU, and the move by Maryland suggests that the Big Ten is no longer standing in the way. We expect IU to make a similar announcement in the coming days once the details are worked out.
Financially strained athletic departments are heavily incentivized to reopen their venues to fans, and IU is especially well positioned to see strong ticket sales in 2021-22.
Indiana football is coming off of one of its best seasons ever, and of course the program and athletic department would like to capitalize on that success. There is no doubt pent-up demand to see the football team in person once again. Indiana has not played a home game in front of fans since a Nov. 23, 2019 game at Memorial Stadium against Michigan.
IU men’s basketball, the department’s fellow positive revenue generator, has a new head coach in Mike Woodson and significant optimism surrounds the program. In November, the Hoosiers will play their first game in front of fans since a March 7, 2020 contest against Wisconsin.
Moreover, the men’s soccer team, women’s basketball, and Mercer’s baseball squad are all experiencing high levels of success and should be significant draws in the coming athletic year.
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