After a 2020-21 season spent playing games in near-empty stadiums due to COVID-19 restrictions, the University of Virginia’s athletic programs will welcome fans back in full force for the upcoming 2021-22 season.
UVa will return to 100% capacity and normal operating procedures for home athletic events this fall, the school announced Friday.
Virginia Athletics Director Carla Williams said the decision to return to normal operations for sporting events came after consulting with school President Jim Ryan and professionals with the UVa Health System.
“We are excited to finally welcome back our fans and resume what we would consider normal home event operations,” Williams said in a statement.
UVa’s announcement came on the same day that the state ended all of its remaining gathering and capacity limits at stadiums, restaurants and other public venues, which had been in place since March 2020 in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The school said Friday that it will continue to follow the executive orders from the governor and all health and safety protocols mandated by the Blue Ridge Health District for its home sporting events. UVa also said any specific health protocols for its home sporting events this fall will be announced in the near future.
The return of fans will be welcomed by UVa coaches and players, who have been playing in front of near-empty stadiums since returning to action in mid-September.
Scott Stadium, which seats 61,500, was limited to just 1,000 fans at the start of the 2020 college football season. Later in the season, that number dropped even lower, to 250, after a rise in COVID case counts in Virginia. The school opted to have no fans at football games, instead giving tickets to the families of players and coaches.
“We love being at home. We love being in our own stadium,” Virginia football coach Bronco Mendenhall said during the season. “But to say it’s the same [without fans], I don’t think that’s fair because it’s really not.”
In addition to playing in empty arenas, UVa student-athletes also had to take part in enhanced COVID-19 protocols that included staying on Grounds and not seeing friends and family members during the season and being tested three times per week. When the Virginia football team opted not to compete in a bowl game this past season, the school cited the toll of playing under the enhanced protocols as one of the reasons for its decision.
“Unless you live it each and every day, it is impossible to understand the mental, emotional and physical sacrifice these young men have made since their return in July,” Williams said in December when the school announced its decision not to play in a bowl game.
With all UVa students required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 for the coming fall semester, those enhanced protocols likely won’t be necessary again for the upcoming football season, which kicks off in just under 100 days.
Virginia opens its 2021 football season against William & Mary on Sept. 4 at Scott Stadium. The game, which will kick off at 7:30 p.m., will be the first crowded with fans in the stands since Virginia’s win over Virginia Tech on Nov. 29, 2019.
“I want to thank all of our fans for their support, understanding and patience over the last 15 months,” Williams said. “We have a renewed appreciation for your presence and we are looking forward to seeing you.”