PROVO — BYU football was originally scheduled to include 5,000 fans at LaVell Edwards Stadium for the Cougars’ home opener Saturday.
That plan can no longer continue under forthcoming state restrictions.
Due to the state’s mandate moving Provo and Orem from "yellow," or low restriction, to the "orange," or moderate risk, level of coronavirus restrictions, no fans will be permitted inside the stadium for this weekend’s game against Troy as well as for the Friday, Oct. 2 kickoff against Louisiana Tech. The games will be broadcast on ESPN and ESPN2, respectively.
The decision to revert a previously made plan that would have allowed for up to 6,000 fans at LaVell Edwards Stadium was disappointing, but also understandable given the state and county's current surge in positive test cases, BYU head coach Kalani Sitake said.
“We love our fans and look forward to them being back with us," Sitake said during his coaches' show Tuesday evening on BYUtv. "We’re going to have to create our own energy, but this is normal, I guess — this is the second game we’ll play without fans.”
That is fairly normal for the Cougars, who played in an empty stadium at Navy at the behest of an executive order from the governor of Maryland.
“It was a little bit eerie to begin with," Sitake recalled of the Labor Day night game in Annapolis. "But once the game started, I think the guys got into full game mode and were able to execute as best as we can.”
Refund requests for fans who have purchased tickets can be made by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
As the state experiences a large spike in new cases, Utah County has been an epicenter for the rising case counts. The county of approximately 20% of Utah’s population has included as much as 40% of new cases in a week where total new case counts rose over 1,000 for two days to end the week.
"My concern is the explosion in parts of Utah County," Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said during Tuesday’s press briefing. "Intervention is needed to stop this fire outbreak of the virus in that location. And if we don’t do it, the unfortunate outcome will be orange being the level for all Utah counties."
BYU defensive tackle Lorenzo Fauatea said that while he and his teammates are disappointed for the fans, they are especially disappointed for the players' families, who were set to receive a limited number of tickets to watch husbands, brothers and children play. It's why he tweeted at Herbert with a brief quip Tuesday afternoon, though he doesn't expect a direct response.
“I don’t know if he’s gotten back to me. But the message was for everybody," said Fauatea, a junior from West Valley City. "All the players want their families to be at the game.
“But it’s the new world that we live in now and today. It is what it is, and we’re just lucky and blessed that we still have the opportunity to play today.”
Utah County accounted for 291 of the state’s 650 new cases Tuesday, or 44.8% of new cases.
BYU had self-reported 1,014 total cases of COVID-19 in the fall from the campus community, which includes students, faculty and staff on or around the Provo campus. That includes 413 active cases, with 601 no longer in isolation, according to the school’s most recent update Tuesday. That number includes BYU quarterback Zach Wilson, who contracted the virus after hosting a small gathering of friends and teammates over the summer, as well as at least a "small number" of football players and staff who led to the postponement of the Cougars' game at Army.
Five miles north on University Parkway, Utah Valley University was having a significantly different experience with the novel coronavirus, though case rates were still rising.
The Wolverines self-reported 62 students and eight faculty tested positive for the virus in the past seven days, according to the university’s COVID-19 dashboard update Wednesday. The school has reported 198 positive cases since returning to a hybrid schedule of in-person and online classes Aug. 28, with the bulk of them reported in the past two weeks.
Due to the rise in cases, BYU President Kevin Worthen and UVU President Astrid Tuminez co-wrote a letter to the state’s largest campus communities urging compliance with local and campus public health guidelines — including when students are away from school. The duo stated that "behavior must change," or additional circumstances could impact the schools' ability to remain open, including a two-week shift to virtual learning, closing campus to the public, and an all-remote instruction for the remainder of the semester.
"We are greatly concerned about the dramatic rise in positive cases of COVID-19 in Utah County, particularly among college students," the presidents wrote. "This is both alarming and unacceptable.
"We’re concerned not only for your well-being, but also for those in the local community who are affected by the trends we’ve seen in the last week."
In addition to campus rules and regulations, UVU is hosting free, drive-up testing for COVID-19 on Wednesday and Thursday. Anyone can be tested in parking lot 6 on the west side of the school’s Clarke Building any time from 1-5 p.m. MT Wednesday and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday.
Applicants must register at TestUtah.com using the authorization number 27110.
The school will host additional testing through the authorization number at Test Utah’s site at the Provo Towne Centre mall and Timpanogos Regional Hospital in Orem.
The Cougars had previously announced plans, approved by the state and county health departments, to allow up to 6,000 fans at Saturday’s opener. That plan included an option to increase stadium capacity as high as 24,000 in future weeks — if local restrictions allowed. As of Wednesday, local restrictions won’t allow it, though.
The recent move applies for all team sports in Provo and Orem, including local high schools. High school sports in Provo and Orem will be allowed to play, but no spectators will be allowed into the stadium this weekend.
The only high school football game that would be affected this week is Provo’s Region 8 tilt against Wasatch. Among the other schools affected by the restrictions: Timpview is at Lehi, Mountain View is at Park City, Timpanogos is at Alta, and Orem has been on a two-week break since a Sept. 11 road loss to Lone Peak.
But just like for college and professional athletes, playing in front of spectator-less stadiums is a part of the new normal in high school — at least until the state can control its current surge.
“I think we were a little disappointed; it’s fair to say that," BYU linebacker Pepe Tanuvasa said. "But at the end of the day, we’re grateful for the opportunity to play football on Saturday.”