After hosting limited, socially distanced crowds last season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, several SEC schools have already announced that they intend to fill their football stadiums to full capacity this year. First-year Tennessee athletic director Danny White believes there’s a good chance the Vols ultimately will do the same.
During a media availability Wednesday afternoon, White stopped short of guaranteeing that Tennessee will welcome full-capacity crowds back to Neyland Stadium for the 2021 season, adding that he doesn’t believe “it’s my role to officially announce it.” But he admitted that he would “be surprised” if any restrictions prevent the Vols from having a full stadium for their eight home games this year.
Last month, Tennessee removed its previous attendance restrictions for home baseball games and resumed hosting full-capacity crowds at Lindsey Nelson Stadium. The Vols’ NCAA Super Regional baseball games this weekend against LSU already are sold out, with capacity crowds of approximately 4,000 expected to be in attendance.
White said Wednesday that he doesn’t “know why” that trend would change leading up to football season.
“I don’t want to get ahead of our county officials and medical experts on that,” White said. “Everyone I’ve talked to, from a healthcare standpoint and those that are forecasting the future, has shown great confidence that we will be in that place of full capacity. We’re certainly doing that at baseball right now. I don’t know why that would change.
“I can’t officially announce it. Actually, I don’t think it’s my role to officially announce it. But I’d be surprised if it’s any different than that. I can say that.”
UT-Knoxville Chancellor Donde Plowman told Knoxville TV station WBIR less than a month ago that the university is “planning on full capacity at Neyland in the fall.”
“Barring some change in the public health status in this country, that’s where we’re headed for,” Plowman said at the time during an appearance May 16 on WBIR’s “Inside Tennessee.”
With more than half of the U.S. population having received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, infection and hospitalization rates have continued to fall in recent weeks. Sports arenas and stadiums have brought back fans in bigger numbers this spring, with some Major League Baseball teams now hosting full-capacity crowds and others set to do the same in the near future.
For its spring-ending Orange and White Game in April, Tennessee used general-admission seating while asking fans to sit in every other row. That would have limited the crowd to roughly half of Neyland Stadium’s official capacity of 102,455, although the Vols drew a crowd smaller than that for the spring game.
Tennessee had limited attendance at its home games during the 2020 season, typically allowing around 22-percent capacity at Neyland Stadium. The Vols’ average announced attendance at the five home games on their SEC-only schedule was 22,449.