Usually more than 60,000 fans fill the stands at LaVell Edwards Stadium for BYU football home games. The plan heading into the week was to allow 6,000 fans for the season opener against Troy on Saturday.
Now there will be zero.
The state of Utah officially moved the Provo and Orem areas to the “orange” or moderate-risk designation on Tuesday after the recent spike in COVID-19 cases.
The official moderate restriction guidelines state: “Do not engage in sporting activities where teammates or opponents will be closer than 10 feet from each other.”
In this case, however, the state officially announced an exception allowing team sports to continue in the cities of Provo and Orem but without spectators.
“I want to note that we are granting one exception related to the move to orange in these two areas of Utah County: We will allow team sports to continue, but with no spectators,” Richard Saunders, interim executive director of the Utah Department of Health, said in Tuesday’s press conference. “The current guidelines of orange do not allow engagement of sports to occur, competitive sports. However, with this exception, they will be able to continue, as I’ve stated, but with no spectators. And that measure is put in place so that we can help influence the spread in the right direction.”
That means that, as of this point, BYU football will still be able to host Troy on Saturday (8:15 p.m. MT, ESPN) and Louisiana Tech on Oct. 2 (7 p.m. MT, ESPN2), but fans won’t be allowed at either contest.
“At first, I was a little upset because all the players want their families to be at the game to see their son and all the hard work and sacrifice they put in,” BYU junior defensive lineman Lorenzo Fauatea said during Tuesday’s media teleconference. “But this is the new world we live in now. It’s something we just have to go with it.”
BYU junior linebacker Pepe Tanuvasa said that while it is disappointing to be preparing to play in an empty stadium, the BYU players are still focused on just how fortunate they are to be playing at all.
“I think we were a little disappointed,” Tanuvasa said. “At the end of the day, we’re just grateful to have the opportunity to play football on Saturday. We are looking ahead to the game, keeping that in mind. There are a lot of teams that still aren’t playing. We’re one of the lucky few who get to suit up and show what we have to offer.”
Cougar defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki said having fans can make a big difference for a defense but everyone knows they have to deal with the realities of this season.
“It’s always hard,” Tuiaki said. “You would like to have a full stadium but this is just the reality we live in, so we’re going to have to deal with it. We’ve been taking the proper precautions and doing our best. Obviously the boys want to play. Anything changes in the public affects us a little bit but we’ve got to take care of ourselves.”
One of the biggest concerns that caused the change in the status for Provo and Orem is the rise in cases among the 16-to-24-year-old age group, which is the same age as the majority of the Cougar football players.
Fauatea said he hopes students can prove they can do better.
“I would just say to be smart with everything going on,” Fauatea said. “We football players would love to play football but that depends on everything going on around us. I would say be smart and try to think of others.”
According to a press release from BYU, “tickets purchased for the Troy game will be honored for the first home game once the state designation changes to allow BYU to host fans in the stadium. Ticket holders who are interested in receiving a refund for the Troy tickets can email the BYU Ticket Office at http://BYUtickets@byu.edu.”
For the affected high schools (Provo, Timpview, Mountain View, Orem and Timpanogos), home contests in football, girls soccer, volleyball, cross country, girls tennis and boys golf could all be impacted.
Representatives from both Provo City School District and Alpine School District issued statements that spectators will not be allowed at any event at the schools in Provo and Orem but other schools aren’t currently affected.
“For games outside of Provo, we will work with each location (school) and follow the guidelines in place from the state for that area,” Provo City School District spokesperson Caleb Price said in an email.
Gov. Gary Herbert indicated that all of Utah County could move to “orange” status unless the COVID-19 numbers start heading in the right direction, so other area high schools could also end up in a similar situation in coming days or weeks.