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No more empty stadiums for MHSAA: Governor’s new EO allows increase in spectator numbers, starting Oct. 9

By: MATTHEW B. MOWERY, September 30, 2020, 4:26 pm

As weird as it has been for athletes to play in front of mostly empty stands for the first few weeks of the fall, that jarring feeling of strangeness may only have another week or so left before it starts to diminish. 

Under Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s latest Executive Order — No. 183, issued last Friday — the size of crowds for sporting events can begin to increase starting on Friday, Oct. 9, meaning that crowds will no longer be limited to two spectators per participant. 

“It’s gonna remove the ‘one participant gets two spectators’ — that goes out the window,” Michigan High School Athletic Association executive director Mark Uyl said on a radio appearance on ‘The Huge Show’ Wednesday afternoon. “The most significant thing it does for outdoor is it opens up Friday night, at least for the last three regular-season weeks, for schools to include their dance teams, their pom-pon squads, the marching band. It just gives schools so much more flexibility to include those student groups that have been traditionally attached to games.”

According to guidance sent by the MHSAA to its member schools on Wednesday, the new limits will be:

For indoor events, the limit is 20 percent of the fixed seating capacity of the venue (25 percent in Regions 6 and 8, which encompass Northern Michigan and the UP), with a maximum of 500.

For outdoor events, the limit is 30 percent of the venue’s fixed seating capacity, with a maximum of 1,000.

For events at venues without fixed seating capacities (i.e. cross country, golf or a soccer field with no permanent seating), the site is limited to no more than 30 spectators per 1,000 square feet of the facility, up to 1,000.

“No longer does a player have to pick the two people that go on their list, because we’ve got a lot of cases — heck, my mom and dad are the craziest sports fans on the planet, and for years, they’ve been at all my kids’ stuff, but of course, for the last three weeks, my senior football player and my eighth-grade volleyball player, they’ve only got two (spots), and that goes to mom and dad. It just opens things up for families that are split family, or where grandparents are very involved, or aunts and uncles — they’re going to be able to be included,” Uyl said.

“We’re going to encourage our schools that we really need to do a good job of setting boundaries and expectations, but now for the first time, we can really let some students sections back in. And again, it can’t turn into the Cameron Crazies — we’ve gotta socially distance, wear the mask, and do all those things — but finally, our student body can become more involved in games, starting next Friday, too.”

The sale and disbursement of the tickets will be up to the schools themselves, but Uyl did say that there would be a requirement of splitting the tickets on a 50-50 basis between the visitors and home fans, if there were a presale.

“Certainly if we’re going to host a game, and we’re going to sell pre-sale tickets, you have to be able to give fans at both schools to get tickets ahead of time, if that’s what you’re gonna do. It can’t be a case of ‘Well, for Friday night’s football game, the home school, we’re going to start selling tickets on Tuesday, and we sell all 1,000 of them, well none of the visiting fans get in,’” Uyl said. “If you do presale, you’ve gotta offer tickets to both schools, and then anything that’s unsold, or if you want to sell all your tickets at the gate, then those will be on a first-come, first-served basis.”

The executive director said he didn’t have any reason for why the new limits didn’t go into effect for two weeks from the issue of the EO, but was just glad for them to have changed.

“I do think some of the concerns we heard from marching band students, or students that were involved in dance or pom, that for us to stay within that two spectator per participant, those were some groups that had to be excluded for the first few weeks. We think that those concerns were heard by those down at the capitol,” Uyl said. “We’ve gotta wait one more week, but the good news is that for the last three weeks of the regular season — and then we anticipate going into the football playoffs — having those limits increased to 1,000 just gives schools so much more options.”

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