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Tech says limited crowds likely for fall athletic events, July start needed for football practice

Tech says limited crowds likely for fall athletic events, July start needed for football practice

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Virginia Tech Hokies fans arrive outside of Lane Stadium prior to the Spring Game in Blacksburg.

BLACKSBURG — Virginia Tech released a detailed plan on Monday for how the fall semester will look for returning students in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Much of it was focused on academic plans, the plan emphasized changes to the academic calendar and modes of instruction, but athletics were included.

“One of the most challenging aspects of life on campus during a pandemic is the management of large crowds at performances and athletic events,” according to the school's site said.

The university said fans shouldn’t expect full stadiums in the fall — ”such events are not possible at the densities to which we are accustomed” — and promised to release specific protocols for attendance later this summer.

A spokesperson for the athletic department said that no final decisions on attendance limits have been made. 

Virginia Tech athletic director Whit Babcock addressed the prospect of playing games without fans in April. The athletic department has worked up models for games with no fans, limited fans and full fan attendance.

“I would never say never because we were going to play the NCAA [basketball] Tournament without any fans, but I would have to lean — if it’s not safe enough for fans and students to come back, I would have a hard time operating a football game under that premise,” Babcock said. “But if I’ve learned nothing else, it’s that things change very rapidly.”

For there to even be a fall football season, Tech says players must be able to safely conduct practices by mid-July. A six-week preseason camp has been publicly floated by many athletic directors and coaches in recent weeks.

“With respect to football, the NCAA and the ACC are evaluating return-to-play models,” Tech said. “If practices cannot be conducted safely by mid-July, the start of the season could be delayed.”

Tech football is tentatively scheduled to start voluntary workouts this week with a group of 25-30 players who remained on campus throughout the COVID-19 outbreak. The student-athletes are required to go through a series screening protocols before being cleared to practice. They will work out in groups of 10 or less under the supervision of strength and conditioning coach Ben Hilgart.

The coaching staff hopes to bring more students back to campus in the coming weeks and add them to the mix once they are medically cleared.

“We are moving slowly and carefully,” Virginia Tech spokesperson Pete Moris said.

Mike Niziolek is the Virginia Tech football beat writer for The Roanoke Times. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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