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Vanderbilt to allow players' families at upcoming UT and Florida football games; no spectators at basketball games

Adam Sparks
Nashville Tennessean

Vanderbilt will allow football players' family members and a limited number of graduate and professional students to attend the final two home games of the season against Florida and Tennessee, the university announced Monday.

As many as 500 tickets also will be available to visiting teams for their players' family members, as required by the SEC, since Vanderbilt is permitting access to more than just its initial crowd of students.

But no other fans and students will be allowed to attend Vanderbilt's remaining home games. Most undergraduate students will leave campus when in-person classes conclude Friday.

That means the Tennessee-Vanderbilt football rivalry game will have a unique crowd of only players' family members of both teams and a few Vanderbilt students.

Vanderbilt (0-6) will host Florida (5-1) on Saturday (11 a.m., ESPN) and Tennessee (2-4) on Nov. 28. The Commodores are scheduled to finish their season on the road at Georgia (Dec. 5) and at Missouri (Dec. 12). 

Also, Vanderbilt basketball will begin without spectators in attendance until further notice. Last week, coach Jerry Stackhouse said he preferred to start the season with no fans at Memorial Gym.

Vanderbilt takes on South Carolina at Vanderbilt Stadium Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020 in Nashville, Tenn. A limited number of student fans were allowed into the stadium to watch the game due to Vanderbilt University coronavirus pandemic protocols.

“In my humble opinion, less is more right now,” Stackhouse said. “If we can get two safe teams in there and be able to televise (the games) and give a product for our fans to see, that’s probably the safest thing right now."

Vanderbilt has not released its non-conference basketball schedule, but games can begin as early as Nov. 25. Athletics director Candice Lee left open the possibility that fans could be allowed to attend basketball games later in the season.

“Similar to our approach with fall sports, we owe it to ourselves, our student-athletes’ families and our fans to gather as much information as possible and understand all aspects of what a basketball game day looks like during this pandemic before determining our fan attendance policies," Lee said in a statement. "We must also take into consideration the additional risks of competing indoors.” 

Why Vanderbilt adjusted its attendance policy

This is a minor tweak to the Vanderbilt's football attendance policy, the most restrictive in the SEC during the COVID-19 pandemic. But it's an important move for family members not permitted to enter Vanderbilt Stadium in the first three home games.

A Vanderbilt news release said the gameday attendance policies were made based on guidance of local public health officials, including the Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

“While we’ve been able to learn so much and adapt our approach in regards to how to manage our game day environment as safely and efficiently as possible, the pandemic continues to be a major challenge,” Lee said. “Yet our parents and families have made so many sacrifices in support of their student-athletes this season. I’d like to extend my deepest appreciation to them for their patience, understanding and cooperation throughout these difficult months."

RELATED:Attendance policies vary for sports stadiums across Tennessee over COVID-19 pandemic

Only a limited number of students were allowed to attend the first three home football games, but no other fans. Vanderbilt students on campus are tested weekly for COVID-19.

Fans and a few players' parents have criticized Vanderbilt on social media for not letting family members see home games in person. Instead, parents had to travel to other SEC stadiums to sit in the stands of their sons' road games.

During Vanderbilt's home opener against LSU, freshman starting quarterback Ken Seals' family watched him play from a hotel room at the Marriott overlooking Vanderbilt Stadium. They even hung flashing Christmas lights to let him know they were there.

Reach Adam Sparks at asparks@tennessean.com and on Twitter @AdamSparks.