Tyra sees possible adjustment for crowds, but no changes yet

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) -- Under the guidelines announced Wednesday by University of Louisville officials, there will be only 3,000 lucky fans for home games in the KFC Yum! Center during the upcoming season, which is scheduled to start on Nov. 25.


At least that's the current plan. But there are no guarantees, as we were reminded of by UofL athletic director Vince Tyra during a media teleconference Wednesday afternoon, because developments in the coronavirus pandemic could force a change.


"I think you adjust to the times," Tyra said. "As I've said before, all these crises on a daily basis just become routine and you quit complaining about it. You adjust to what's going on in the environment. We have forecasts and they get tweaked up a bit and tweaked down a bit. But that's our role, we've just got to manage what we're presented. It is what it is. We say it all the time it's an uncertain time and it's on me to figure out how to adjust to do what's best for athletics and not put any great strain on the university."


Tyra even suggested that Louisville's three remaining football home games in Cardinal Stadium -- against Virginia Tech Saturday, Syracuse on Nov. 20 and Walke Forest on Dec. 5 -- could be in jeopardy if the COVID-19 situation dictated.


"Our anticipation is to have fans on Saturday, but it's game-by-game, much like we said from the get-go," Tyra said. "We're following every athletic venue across the country and we've yet to see a spread leaving an athletic facility. We're managing a controled environment and our fans have done a terrific job as well, much as they've done at Louisville City FC and Lexington. These are diehard fans and if they're not in that stadium, there's a good chance they're huddled up in somebody's basement or in a bar or restaurant, not in a controlled environment like we have in Cardinal Stadium."


Last season, UofL averaged 16,658 for its 18 home basketball games. The 3,000 represents 15 percent of the seating capacity in the 22,090-seat arena, but there are no hard and fast percentages being recommended by the Centers for Disease Control. Decisions are being made by state, local, conference and school officials, and the numbers are all over the map.


The Mid-American Athletic Conference isn't allowing any fans to attend basketball games before Dec. 23, and then the situation will be reevaluated. The state of North Carolina is restricting indoor gatherings to just 25 people. The Universities of Evansville and Texas Tech have announced limiting attendance to about 25 percent.


And last week, ESPN decided to call off its Orlando-based bubble, or multi-team event (MTE), for the start of the 2020-21 season due to a lack of agreement over health and safety protocols for COVID-19.


ESPN's decision impacted only the 10 different events it was putting on. There are a number of other MTEs still scheduled, including in Louisville, which will host seven other teams for 17 non-conference games in the Yum! from Nov. 25-Dec. 4. The Cardinals will play five games.


Contracted to play are Arkansas at Little Rock, Duquesne, UNC Greensboro, Prairie View A&M, Southern Illinois, Winthrop and Western Kentucky, but Tyra said there has been so much interest that the event could be expanded to include other teams.


Teams will stay in the Galt House, which is connected to the arena by a skywalk, thus creating a bubble with strict protocols.


"I think there's certainly been more interest and we're thinking about how to safely accomodate that," Tyra said. "We're fortunate to have the Galt House as a partner where we can walk to the Yum! Center and I think as we lay out our plans where teams can do a walk-through practice in a ballroom. . .We can certainly use our own practice facility (Kueber Center). We're trying to sort out whether we want to expand the tournament.


"But we don't want to overstretch our ability here and pretend we have this down pat. We've got great protocols we've developed with the Galt House and our partners. We're following as much as possible the quote, unquote, 'bubble scenario.' But it won't be a perfect bubble, so I don't think we want to oversell our abilities, but I feel really good about what we're doing, even testing staff at the hotel as much as testing the student athletes."


In addition to the Cards' five games in the MTE, the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, Kentucky, and 20 ACC games will make up their pandemic-shortened 27-game schedule.  There has been no timetable announced for release of the full schedule


Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear issued recommendations this week that those counties in the “red zone” for new cases of COVID-19 should reschedule, postpone or cancel public and private events and not host gatherings of any size. Jefferson County's rate has exceeded the state's 25 per 100,000 "red zone" threshold, viewed as critical, since Oct. 19.


However, Tyra said he doesn't think UofL needs to rethink the size of its football crowds or its basketball MTE plans.


"We certainly look at those numbers, and they're quite a bit less than our positivity rate on campus with our students," he said. "We're obviously concerned about tracking any reports from COVID that might come from one of our facilities. To date we've not hit that alarm button."

Russ Brown, a former sportswriter for The Courier-Journal and USA Today, covers University of Louisville sports and college football and basketball for Kentucky Today. He can be contacted at 0926.russ.brown@gmail.com.

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