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One Citadel model for football amid coronavirus: 3,000 to 4,000 fans in stands

Citadel vs VMI_1.jpg (copy)

The Citadel is studying several models for football games at Johnson Hagood Stadium in 2020, including one that limits crowd sizes to 3,000 to 4,000 spectators. File/Andrew J. Whitaker/Staff

Citadel athletic director Mike Capaccio is confident there will be college football in 2020.

"I firmly believe that college football will be played this year, especially in the South," he told a committee of The Citadel's Board of Visitors on Wednesday.

But what that season will look like during the time of coronavirus is less certain.

One model among several that The Citadel has been studying is to have about 3,000 to 4,000 spectators in the stands for home games at Johnson Hagood Stadium, which seats about 11,500 in its current configuration. The Citadel averaged 9,344 fans for six home games last year.

But that's just one possibility, Capaccio said during the meeting. 

"We've been looking at a lot of different models, obviously," he said. "But there is one that we are looking at where we would have three to four thousand people at the game, possibly. We are hoping for a lot more, to be back to normal by that point.

"But say that happens. You have a couple of thousand cadets to start with, and then family members and so forth. And then, how do you handle club seats and things like that? There are really some unknowns that we have, and that's all across the board in college athletics."

Capaccio said the military school is looking at July 6 as a date to bring freshman athletes to campus, particularly in football. But that date is not set in stone, he stressed.

"For our standards here, we need to do it the right way," he said. "We are meeting (Wednesday), in fact, to talk about the staff returning and how we do that safely, with masks and social distancing. 

"Right now, we are trying to prepare our weight room for local cadet-athletes to be able to come back and work out," he said. "We're still a couple of weeks away from that. But we are not going to do anything until we are very thorough and very prepared in the direction we are going."

Capaccio said the athletic department budget will face a shortfall this year after the shutdown of college sports in mid-March. The Citadel received only about 40 percent of its usual allotment from the NCAA men's basketball tournament, and lost big gates with the cancellation of home baseball games against South Carolina and Clemson.

But he emphasized that The Citadel is not considering cutting any varsity sports or reducing the number of athletic scholarships it offers at this time. Last week, fellow Southern Conference member Furman announced it was dropping baseball and men's lacrosse in an effort to slash 45 scholarships over a five-year period.

The Citadel has 17 varsity sports teams and some 380 scholarship and non-scholarship athletes.

"We are not considering eliminating any sports," Capaccio said. "You all know what happened at Furman with the reduction of scholarships. That is not a way we are looking to contain costs. Everybody in this room understands the importance of scholarship athletes at The Citadel. They bring us diversity and a lot of women, and that's very important to this institution.

"I told our conference today, we will not be cutting any scholarships and will not be considering cutting any scholarships. Those are two things that are not on our drawing board."

Capaccio said previously that the athletic department would cut budgets by 10 percent across the board, and said Wednesday that also means "eliminating some positions across the board." He did not say now many positions.

Other cost-cutting measures include limiting the number of competitions, scheduling games closer to Charleston, limiting the size of travel squads and eliminating travel for out-of-season sports.

"We are going to have a shortfall, but we are going to be very close to where we need to be," he said. "Our goal is to balance the budget. The shortfall we show right now does not include money saved from recruiting and from travel for all our spring teams after their seasons were canceled.

"We are going to eliminate a couple of positions and become a little leaner," he said. "But believe me, there's no fat or fluff in this budget."

Managing rosters for sports is another challenge presented by the coronavirus, Capaccio said. He pointed out that the Bulldogs' baseball team now has more than 20 players classified as freshmen, including 10 coming in this fall.

"That's a huge problem for our coach and our program," he said. "With scholarship money, we've had to eat a little bit of that, and we have 20 people grouped in one class. That makes it very difficult for next year's recruiting class. It's going to be very difficult to manage."

Capaccio said that cadet-athletes posted a 3.301 GPA for the spring semester, which included on-line only classes after spring break. Women's soccer led the way at 3.743, with baseball at 3.230, football at 3.141 and basketball at 3.023. The GPA for all cadets was 3.096.

College of Charleston game

Capaccio was asked about the "controversy" over The Citadel receiving a $65,000 guarantee from the College of Charleston for playing a basketball game at the College's TD Arena next season.

“I don’t like that we have to pay (The Citadel) a guarantee, I don’t think that’s right,” College of Charleston AD Matt Roberts told The Post and Courier last week. “It’s almost as if we are getting taken advantage of.”

Said Capaccio, "There is no controversy. I never heard from the other athletic director, he never called me about trying to schedule a game at any time. They signed a contract, so I really don't see any controversy. That guarantee game was set up between our coaches. Our coach brought it to me and I said, 'I'll sign this every year.'

"I've never heard from their AD and he's never reached out to me to try to schedule a game."

Bulldogs No. 21

The Citadel football team is ranked No. 21 in the HERO Sports FCS Preseason Top 25 poll released on Wednesday. The Bulldogs were 6-6 overall and 4-4 in the SoCon last year.

HERO Sports ranks defending FCS champ North Dakota State at No. 1, with Furman the only other ranked SoCon squad at No. 14. SoCon members Chattanooga and Wofford also received votes in the poll.

Reach Jeff Hartsell at 843-937-5596. Follow on Twitter @Jeff_fromthePC

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