Over the last few days, members of Penn State’s football staff have taken to Twitter to encourage fans to wear a mask in the hopes of ensuring a somewhat normal football season.
As positive coronavirus cases continue to rise in different parts of the country, Florida, Texas and Washington are among states that have pushed back their reopening phases.
College athletes were given the green light by the NCAA to return to their respective campuses for voluntary workouts in June, and Penn State’s began on June 15.
While college football teams are working ahead and planning for a 2020 season, the landscape for fans will likely look drastically different.
SportsBettingDime (www.SportsBettingDime.com) recently announced its over/under for fans attending FBS games this season at 13.62 million. According to Sports Betting Dime, 36,831,692 fans attended games last year, which would signal a 63% decrease in attendance.
Of the 10 teams listed in Sports Betting Dime’s over/under betting averages, Penn State ranks second with the expectation that the Nittany Lions’ will have 40,128 fans, just 38% of Penn State’s average for the 2019 season. Penn State’s Beaver Stadium seats approximately 108,000 and is the second-largest football stadium in the country.
“The starting point is historical data on attendance numbers with recent years, last year being weighted the most heavily,” said Sacha Paruk, head oddsmaker with SportsBettingDime. “From there, it’s not an exact science, but there have been statements from various athletic directors from various conferences about what they see as sort of the most likely plan for the upcoming season. Nobody wants to have zero fans in the stands. That’s abundantly clear.”
SportsBettingDime lists three other Big Ten teams among its top 10 for over/under betting averages: No. 1 Michigan (38,850), No. 3 Ohio State (32,999) and No. 8 Nebraska (49,140).
Of Penn State’s 2020 road games, the Nittany Lions are scheduled to travel to Virginia Tech (66,233 capacity) on Sept. 12, Michigan (107,601) on Oct. 3, Indiana (52,626) on Oct. 31, Nebraska (85,484) on Nov. 7 and Rutgers (52,454) on Nov. 28.
Each venue will more than likely have reduced attendance in the fall. When asked about the possibility of playing away games in front of less-than-typically rowdy crowds, Penn State receiver Jahan Dotson said the experience wouldn’t be too foreign to him, although he enjoys the energy of tens of thousands of opposing fans.
“I love away games because I feed off of the away crowd,” Dotson said. “It kind of fuels my game a little bit. … When I was in high school — my junior year when I played at a prep school — we probably had like maybe 50 people max at our games. I was kind of used to not playing in front of a lot of people. I’m just ready to get on the field and play.”
In 2019, Penn State ranked second in FBS in attendance as the Nittany Lions drew an average of 105,678 fans to Beaver Stadium in seven games. Penn State, in part fueled by that large home support, went 7-0 in home contests last year.
Paruk, who transitioned from his career as an attorney to the sports betting profession, said Sports Betting Dime began tracking positive coronavirus cases and their impact around the time it started to overtake the United States in mid-March.
“I sort of used one-third as a starting point for a lot of the Big Ten schools,” Paruk said. “Based on the response from the state and how the county, in particular, is doing … it seems like at this point, the most likely outcome is that you’re going to be able to put more fans in the stadiums as the season progresses.”
He said he factored states’ coronavirus responses and prevention efforts into his matrix.
“The smallest decline I had conference-wise was for the Big Twelve,” Paruk said. “Largely because of in Texas, I believe, they’re sort of going to be the most liberal with how many people they’re allowing in the stadium, and that’s almost entirely based on the response to social distancing within a state as a whole.”
In non-attendance-related Penn State betting odds news, SportsBettingDime has the Nittany Lions at 35/1 odds to win the College Football Playoff national championship. Nittany Lions’ quarterback Sean Clifford has 125/1 odds to win the Heisman Trophy and linebacker Micah Parsons leads the way with 5/1 odds to be the first defender to be drafted in the 2021 NFL draft.