UB is still awaiting approval to reopen Alumni Arena and UB Stadium to spectators, even as New York State loosens restrictions on facilities across the state.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on March 18 that regional indoor sports venues holding more than 1,500 spectators can reopen at 10% capacity and regional outdoor sports venues holding more than 2,500 spectators can reopen at 20% capacity, starting April 1. But UB still doesn’t have clarity on its various facilities.
UB Athletic Director Mark Alnutt and his staff have been strategizing how to safely welcome back fans over the following months. He said many people only look at UB’s two highest revenue-generating sports — football and men’s and women’s basketball — but that spring sports like soccer and softball have been overlooked.
“We have sports in competition right now like soccer and softball that have a major fan component,” Alnutt said. “I’m hopeful that our students, season ticket holders and True Blue [UB’s cheering section] members will have an opportunity to attend these games.”
The current freshman class has never had the opportunity to attend a game in person, but Alnutt hopes that will change next semester. But as the pandemic has proven, a lot can happen in the next few months, so the department is planning for all scenarios.
“Fall is going to be a longer discussion for sure. From a technical standpoint, it’s business as usual,” Alnutt said. “What I mean by that is it is easier to scale down the restrictions that are in place. And who knows what it will be like six months from now regarding the control of the pandemic, vaccination totals and most importantly the comfort level of [spectators] attending games.”
As the year has gone on, New York State has lightened up its COVID-19 restrictions, with professional sports teams and large outdoor art venues being allowed to reopen at 20% capacity.
Students typically show up in droves for football’s home opener. The warm weather, recent move-in and new season usually inspires many of UB’s 30,000 students to flock to UB Stadium. Alnutt is hopeful students will be able to attend that event.
“Two years ago against Robert Morris, we had a Thursday night opener,” Alnutt said. “It was our highest student attendance in a long time and we want to be able to give students that opportunity to experience the environment and atmosphere while in that stadium.”
Alnutt moved UB’s 2021 season opener against Wagner to Thursday, Sept. 4 in hopes of recreating that experience for students and fans.
UB will need to follow specific guidelines from the state, county and NCAA in order to reopen this semester. That will include social distancing, mask wearing and possibly paperless tickets.
“The real difference will be how we enter the games,” Alnutt said. “We’re anticipating paperless tickets to avoid crowded gates as well as concessions. It’s all up in the air right now, but many lessons will be learned.”
In a year of uncertainty, Alnutt — like everyone else — wants to see a return to normalcy. Being able to conduct a 2020-21 season was no easy task. Alnutt hopes things will get easier in the coming months.
“We miss the fans and we miss each other,” Alnutt said. “We’ve had to operate in separate pods with little to no contact but I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished and to bring these athletes together to be able to compete is phenomenal. We’re just hoping our missing piece in all of this is the fans in the stands.”
Hunter Skoczylas is the assistant sports editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Hunter Skoczylas is the assistant sports editor for The Spectrum. In his free time, he can be found looking up random sports statistics, posting memes on Twitter, and dedicating his Sunday afternoons to watching the Buffalo Bills.