Tennessee plans to limit Neyland Stadium capacity to 25% for Vols football games

Blake Toppmeyer
Knoxville News Sentinel

The University of Tennessee plans to restrict seating to about a quarter of Neyland Stadium's capacity for home football games this fall, athletics director Phillip Fulmer said during a news conference Tuesday in Nashville.

"We're anticipating somewhere around the 25% mark," Fulmer said. "We hope to be able to achieve that."

A Tennessee athletic department spokesman told Knox News that if the season started today, capacity would be limited to 25%, but given the fluid nature of the pandemic, that figure could change.

The SEC is allowing individual schools, in conjunction with local and state officials, to determine stadium capacities to mitigate risk during the COVID-19 pandemic. Four FBS conferences, including the Big Ten and Pac-12, will not play a season this fall and aim to play in the spring.

The SEC and five other FBS conferences continue to plan for a fall season. The SEC reconfigured its members' schedules to a 10-game, conference-only season that is set to begin Sept. 26.

"We are preparing to play, and we remain hopeful that we will get to do so," UT Chancellor Donde Plowman said at Tuesday's media briefing in Nashville.

In addition to limiting stadium capacity, Fulmer said that the team's pregame Vol Walk and band march, popular traditions for fans and players, are unlikely to occur.

“We’re looking forward to the start of the season," Fulmer said. "We’re looking at different aspects that go along with Southeastern Conference football, like tailgating, certainly band protocols. In any way that we can, we need to avoid large gatherings, so we’re looking at those as we go along."

Tennessee announced last week that it won't have tailgating organized by the university or student organizations this season. Details about individual fans’ ability to tailgate on campus haven't been announced. 

Other stadium safety measures include health screenings for employees, vendors and contractors; zoned entries; barriers at concessions stands; enhanced cleaning efforts; and a shift to exclusively mobile tickets.

SEC rules mandate that fans must wear face coverings when entering, exiting or moving within the stadium as well as any time a fan cannot maintain social-distancing from others who are not in the same household.

Stadium workers must wear face coverings at all times.

The university lists Neyland Stadium's capacity at 102,455. A crowd at 25% capacity would be 25,614.

Tennessee sold about 62,000 season tickets last year. It has sold about 56,000 season tickets this year. Tennessee plans to communicate more details on ticket allocation protocols later this month.

Tennessee’s average actual attendance for eight home games in 2019 was 74,870, according to figures obtained by Knox News via a public records request. Its average announced attendance, which reflects tickets distributed, was 87,864.

How will capacity restriction affect Tennessee athletics financial picture?

Fulmer said Tennessee's athletic department is preparing for a $30 million to $40 million reduction in revenue, tied to stadium capacity restrictions.

Tennessee athletics generated $143.8 million in revenue and $143 million in expenses for the 2019 fiscal year, the most recent year for which figures are publicly available. The football program was directly credited with generating $96.1 million in revenue for the 2019 fiscal year, according to the athletic department's annual revenue-and-expense report submitted to the NCAA. 

"We’ve been very proactive in the cost-cutting measures since last spring, as we’ve made 20% cuts in our budgets all across the athletic department," Fulmer said.

Tennessee athletics has not instituted pay cuts, furloughs or layoffs.

How many Vols players have tested positive for COVID-19?

Vols football players returned to campus in June, and since then 23 players have tested positive for COVID-19. Fulmer said that "a good portion" of those positive tests occurred after the Fourth of July holiday.

“Unfortunately, some people gathered too much," Fulmer said, "so that again made a statement to our athletes that we need to be fully committed to get football where it needs to be, to stay safe for each other and stay safe for our loved ones.”

Football coach Jeremy Pruitt said Monday, after the team's first preseason practice, that "a few" players were not at practice because of quarantine measures. Practices are closed to the media.

The SEC's COVID-19 testing plan requires football players to be tested a minimum of once per week during the preseason and three times per week once the season begins. 

Plowman commended Vols athletes for setting a positive example for other students to follow.

"Our players understand that they have a responsibility to follow all of the protocols established by our medical staff around COVID-19," Plowman said. "And I'm so proud of the way they're actually leading the campus, wearing their mask, social distancing, following health and safety protocols that have been given to them."

University officials said Tuesday there have been 75 COVID-19 cases detected in the campus community, up from 36 on Thursday. Sixty-six of those are students, more than double last week. There also are 187 students in self-isolation, 51 of them living on campus.

Students began moving onto campus on Aug. 9, and the first day of classes is Wednesday.

Note:Information about the testing plan for Tennessee football players has been updated in this story after Knox News received clarification from UT.

Blake Toppmeyer covers University of Tennessee football. Email him at and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it. Current subscribers can click here to join Blake's subscriber-only text group offering updates and analysis on Vols football.