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University of Texas at Austin officials are now considering kicking off the football season with a stadium filled to 25% capacity, interim President Jay Hartzell said Wednesday. That compares with previous announcements from athletics officials that the stadium would operate at 50% capacity.
Kevin Eltife, the Chairman of the UT System Board of Regents, made the request to lower capacity. Final decisions will be made in the coming weeks, Hartzell said, and will be informed by guidance from UT's Board of Regents and state health officials.
Texas athletics director Chris Del Conte had previously sent an email season ticket holders saying the season would move forward as planned, with the first game set for Sept. 5. But neither NCAA nor Big 12 Conference officials have announced firm decisions on how college football will proceed in the fall.
"I want you to know that as we are working toward hosting football games this season, our number one priority remains the health and safety of our student-athletes, staff and fans," Del Conte wrote in that email.
The decision to let fans back in the stadium at all comes on the heels of an outbreak among student athletes shortly after they arrived on campus to begin voluntary summer workouts. The school also reported its first death, a staff member, earlier this month. There have been more than 500 COVID-19 cases at UT-Austin since March, according to the school's dashboard.
Officials have pushed forward with kicking off the football season as planned. The annual game between the Longhorns and Oklahoma Sooners occurs during the State Fair of Texas, which organizers canceled this year. Still, Del Conte said earlier this month that the game will be played.
Football conferences across the nation have so far offered disparate responses to the pandemic. The Ivy League and several other conferences postponed their seasons tentatively to spring 2021, while the Big 12 and Southeastern Conference are expected to post clearer decisions by the end of the summer.
High school athletics also received firmer guidance earlier in July from the University Interscholastic League, which said smaller schools can begin practicing volleyball and football as early as Aug. 3. Bigger schools will have to wait longer, and face coverings will be mandatory for anyone not participating in a sport, the guidance said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly implied that guidelines for high school athletics were released on July 28. The University Interscholastic League issued the guidance on July 21.
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