Wisconsin is scheduled to open the 2020 football season at Camp Randall Stadium against Indiana on the night of Sept. 4. With COVID-19 still having a significant impact on the country, it remains to be seen what exactly that will look like.
During a virtual town hall for season-ticket holders on Thursday, athletic director Barry Alvarez said the date for making a concrete decision is fast approaching.
“We have to be getting closer because our kids are going to be reporting for camp in a few weeks,” Alvarez said. “I think we’ll have some answers after the Fourth of July. We’re going to have to. A lot of discussions, a lot of areas that we have to make tough decisions on.”
Among those tough decisions will be whether to allow fans into the stadium, and if they are allowed, how do they decide who gets in.
“You hate to keep pushing these questions off, but there’s no way we can answer that,” said Alvarez, who also noted that he could foresee each Big Ten venue being different. “There’s nothing like 80,000 in (Camp Randall Stadium) on game day Saturday. It’s been called one of the greatest game day atmospheres in the country. That’s our ideal. Where we’ll be — the number, the percentage, the social distancing — that’s up in the air right now. That’s to be answered.”
The Badgers do have plans in place but aren’t focusing on any particular one at this point.
“We’ve put all our effort behind developing plans for each of those scenarios and virtually no effort in predicting which one of those scenarios will emerge,” deputy AD Chris McIntosh said.
McIntosh admitted that if they do end up allowing fans, and it’s at a reduced capacity, there will be some tough decisions on who exactly gets to go into the stadium.
“The scenarios that we could be faced with, we’ve never been faced with. That will require flexibility on all our parts,” McIntosh said. “It’s likely that we’ll have to put forth some creative solutions that will likely be impossible to make everybody happy. We’ll do the best we can. That’s our vow or our pledge to those that have supported for such a long time.”
Players back on campus
For the first time in quite a while, Alvarez had the pleasure of looking out his office window at the stadium this week and seeing athletes on the turf as voluntary workouts got underway. Their appearance came as a result of an extensive plan to bring athletes back to campus after being away for close to three months due to the virus.
“We view this as the first of many steps to a fall with seasons as we’ve grown accustomed,” McIntosh said. “Fall camp for football, preseasons for our other sports. This is the world we live in now.”
All the players were tested for COVID-19 upon their return and McIntosh called the process “meticulous.” They’ll continue to go through the voluntary workouts until July 12. At that point, due to a vote by the Division 1 Council on Wednesday, those workouts can become mandatory. Then, for two weeks starting July 22, the team will be allowed on the field for walkthroughs. Finally, the normal preseason camp can get underway Aug. 5.
“Our athletes are probably more fired up than they have ever been to get back on campus and get working toward the season,” McIntosh said.
Notre Dame at Lambeau Field
There was a report earlier this month that Wisconsin’s game on Oct. 3 against Notre Dame at Lambeau Field wasn’t going to happen. Then, Irish coach Brian Kelly threw gas on the fire by saying in an interview that they were exploring moving games out of NFL stadiums and back to campus. If that’s the case, they haven’t informed the Badgers about it.
“To date, we have yet to have any conversations with Notre Dame about changing the game,” Alvarez said. “As of right now, it’s status quo.”
Schools around the country are cutting sports at an alarming rate due to budget restraints, which in some cases is directly related to COVID-19. It could get much worse if the football season is not played, as a lot of schools use football to prop up the rest of the athletic department.
Wisconsin has put together a number of budgets for various scenarios, including the doomsday of no football. But cutting any of the 22 other sports isn’t currently on the menu.
“Cutting sports, we have not even discussed that. We’ve not even considered that at this point,” Alvarez said. “I think we’ve done a very conscientious and a good job of managing our finances over quite a few years.
“As we move forward, if attendance and TV contracts and all those things change, they’ll affect our budget. Our people have really several different budgets planned according to what’s going to happen. We try to be proactive about what possibly could happen, so we’re prepared to move in that direction when it does. Cutting sports is not something we’re considering.”