University of South Carolina officials still hope to welcome back full capacity crowds to Gamecock football games this fall — and fans likely won’t have to be vaccinated from COVID-19 to make that happen.
USC President Bob Caslen, speaking Wednesday at an event promoting a new partnership between the school and Major League Soccer, was asked about the possibility of 100% capacity at Williams-Brice Stadium for the 2021 season that starts in September.
“We are in consultation with the CDC and their guidance on large gatherings. The state also has some guidance they give us based on where the conditions for the state are for large gatherings,” Caslen said. “We’re going to comply with what those guidance are. If it allows us to be 100%, that’s exactly what we would like to do — and if we have the ability to do that, we’ll definitely do that.”
At the start of March, South Carolina introduced discounted season tickets for 2021 as part of a marketing campaign, and as part of it the athletics department said it was “hopeful to return to a full stadium,” even as it noted that COVID-19 protocols were not formally determined yet.
Athletic director Ray Tanner later said in a radio interview that he and his staff planned to be “aggressive” in planning to return to full capacity, citing the rollout of vaccines against the coronavirus across the state.
Since then, different college and professional teams have taken different tracks in announcing their plans for the fall season. While other SEC schools like Texas A&M have said they’re planning on hosting full crowds, other programs have yet to give an indication of their plans. Most recently, the NFL’s Buffalo Bills announced it would host full capacity crowds at home this fall — so long as every fan shows proof of COVID vaccination. Without that proof, fans will be denied entry.
South Carolina doesn’t seem likely to enact a similar policy.
“I’m not sure that’s going to be necessary,” Caslen said Wednesday.
The guidance Caslen referenced from the state government changed in early March, when Gov. Henry McMaster announced he was lifting restrictions on large gatherings in response to the pandemic. Previously, any time someone wanted to hold an event with more than 250 people, they had to apply to the Department of Commerce for a waiver. Now, there is no hard limit or regulation on gathering size, though McMaster and the Department of Health and Environmental Control continue to recommend that venues limit capacity to less than 50%.
USC’s athletics department said, at the time McMaster made those changes, that it would not expand capacities at any spring sports. The Gamecocks had already received approval to fill Founders Park, Carolina Stadium and other venues to around 25% of their normal capacity.
But under the new rules, there’s no legal hurdle preventing USC from going full capacity at Williams-Brice Stadium in the fall.
Tanner was asked in that March radio interview whether there was a percentage of vaccinations among South Carolina residents that had to be reached before he would feel comfortable returning to normal, and he admitted he wasn’t sure. At the moment, 37.4% of South Carolina residents have at least one vaccine dose, while 23.3% are fully vaccinated. Currently, all South Carolinians age 16 and older can get their COVID-19 vaccine.
SOUTH CAROLINA FOOTBALL 2021 SCHEDULE
Sept. 4 - vs. Eastern Illinois
Sept. 11 - at East Carolina
Sept. 18 - at Georgia
Sept. 25 - vs. Kentucky
Oct. 2 - vs. Troy
Oct. 9 - at Tennessee
Oct. 16 - vs. Vanderbilt
Oct. 23 - at Texas A&M
Oct. 30 - BYE
Nov. 6 - vs. Florida
Nov. 13 - at Missouri
Nov. 20 - vs. Auburn
Nov. 27 - vs. Clemson