OSU’s opener will feature smallest crowd

By Jim Naveau - jnaveau@limanews.com

COLUMBUS — It was a record that seemed destined to last forever.

On Nov. 6, 1926, a crowd of only 5,482 fans showed up at Ohio Stadium to watch Ohio State beat Wilmington College 13-6.

For 94 years that was the record for the fewest fans to watch the Buckeyes play a football game in their stadium, which opened in 1922.

But the coronavirus pandemic changed all that.

When Ohio State plays Nebraska in its season opener on Saturday at Ohio Stadium, there will be only 1,600 people inside the stadium, which has a capacity of 102,780.

That number includes everyone — family members of players and coaches, media, concessions workers and other workers.

The absence of the usual crowd of more than 100,000 fans won’t be the only difference from the familiar game day experience.

Ohio State’s marching band won’t perform. There will be no cheerleaders and Brutus Buckeye’s oversized head will remain in storage.

There will be no Skull Session at St. John Arena and no pregame walk to the stadium by the players. Tailgating will not be allowed anywhere on campus.

One tradition will remain in place, though. If Ohio State wins the victory bell in one of the stadium’s towers will be rung.

Ohio State will have a limit of 656 players’ family members and guests and coaches’ family members and guests. And the visiting team can have up to 400 tickets for people in those categories.

Fans will be spread around 10 sections in A Deck. Only 40 reporters will be allowed in the press box and a limited number of photographers will shoot the game from AA Deck.

There will be recorded crowd noise, which will be set at 70 decibels for most of the game and turned up to 90 decibels after big plays by Ohio State.

Seventy decibels is comparable to the sound made by a vacuum cleaner and 90 decibels is more like a lawnmower.

“We’re going to have to bring our own energy. The fans bring so much when you’re at home. You can kind of get on a rally and get them going it brings the energy up,” OSU tight end Luke Farrell said on a recent Zoom conference. “We’re going to have to create that a little bit on the sidelines. We just have to play to our strengths to make up for that stuff.”

Ohio State had considered a much higher attendance limit but the Big Ten schools decided as a group that no tickets would be sold to the public this football season. One of the reasons behind that decision was that some states have stricter coronavirus restrictions than others.

“We felt that every school should be in the same boat,” Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said on a Zoom conference on Monday. “We decided as a league that the parents of the players and coaching staff were the highest priority.

“So when you look at Rutgers, for example, I think their limit is 500 people in the stands. And Penn State is somewhere in that neighborhood (750 people). So when you look at each player gets four tickets, and then you add in the families of the coaches, you’re a little bit over 1,000 right there. So we just felt like we’ve got to take care of them first.

“I think every week, we’ll continue to evaluate what’s happening in other states. New Jersey has some very stringent requirements right now, and Pennsylvania as well, and Maryland. The state up north just lifted theirs a little bit. What we want is consistency.

“We decided that we’ll all be in this together, and I think we’ll just go week to week,” he said.

By Jim Naveau