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Will there be fans in the stands when Mizzou football takes the field in the fall?

Eli Drinkwitz’s players made their way to Columbia this week. But will fans be in the stands when they take the field for the first time?

NCAA Football: Florida at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Are you ready for some football? I ask that rhetorically, of course. Everyone is ready for football at this point.

But are you ready to attend a football game? That’s a different question entirely. And a question each and every Mizzou fan is likely going to have to answer for his or herself this fall.

Mizzou football players began voluntary workouts earlier this week in preparation for Eli Drinkwitz’s first season as head coach. The anticipation is pretty high for a team with low expectations for the win-loss record in 2020. There’s certainly reason for that; Drinkwitz has knocked the offseason out of the park. He’s won every PR opportunity. He beat Alabama in a head-to-head recruiting battle, and he has Missouri boasting the 33rd ranked 2021 recruiting class in the country.

That’s certainly one way to get fans energized.

But will those fans be able to show their support in the stadium this fall? And if the answer is yes, then how many will be able to do so?

It’s the question athletic directors across the country are grappling with. Jim Sterk is no exception.

Sterk hosted a Zoom teleconference with reporters yesterday in which he addressed questions about whether or not Mizzou expects to have fans in the stands. Long story short? As of today, they expect fans to be in the stands, even if they don’t have an exact number on how many will be allowed.

“We’re trying to wait until we make that final decision as much as we can,” Sterk said. “It’s going to be anywhere from 50 percent to 75 (percent) to full capacity in some games. But that will depend on health officials as we get information.”

This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. College athletics are big business, and the more fans they can fit in the stands, the lower the revenue shortage will be. At LSU, for example, 40 percent of football revenue comes from ticket sales. I don’t know what that exact number is at Missouri, but I would imagine that’s a pretty solid gauge.

Mizzou is already anticipating a 20 percent shortfall in anticipated revenue for the 2020-2021 fiscal year. The first significant signs of the expected revenue shortfall was felt last week when the athletic department announced another round of pay cuts and furloughs.

“We’re a little bit ahead on season ticket renewals, but if we’re not able to allow single-game ticket sales, then that’s probably a 25 percent (revenue) hit there,” Sterk said. “If we just allow all our season ticket holders in and that’s what the stadium looks like, then we’re looking at a little bit more than 20 percent (shortfall). If we can have some (single-game tickets), then I think we can hit that 20 percent (shortfall) or a little (less).“

Sterk knows the fall is sure to be full of unexpected challenges. There will be some give-and-take with whatever decision he makes to have fans in the stands.

“Given the realities of the situation at that time, we may have to pivot and change,” Sterk said. “I just ask that our fans and supporters give us a little leeway this year. It’s going to be an unusual year. I think it could be a very exciting year. I’m excited about what this fall brings, but it’s probably going to look different than anything we’ve ever had before.“

So, will there be fans in the stands this fall? All signs are pointing to yes, barring something unexpected. Should there be fans in the stands? That’s another question for another day. College athletics are a business, and they’re going to operate as such - even when it comes to putting fans in the stands in the middle of a pandemic.