FARGO — If a spring college football season seems as odd as baseball in a blizzard, North Dakota State fans apparently don't mind.
NDSU athletic director Matt Larsen says he expects the Bison's season-opening game against Youngstown State on Sunday, Feb. 21, to be near a "sellout" of 9,500 at the Fargodome.
That figure is only half of the 19,000 football capacity of the dome, but attendance will be capped at 50% because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
"Unless something drastically changes, I think we'll be pretty close to that number," Larsen said.
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Given the pandemic statistics, do you think it's safe to allow 9,500 fans into the Fargodome for the Bison's football game?
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The crowd will be largely season ticket holders who opted in for the spring season and NDSU students. If available, additional single-game tickets will go on sale Monday, Feb. 15, for Team Makers members who are not season ticket holders and Wednesday, Feb. 17, to the public.
It will be a different atmosphere than NDSU's lone fall game, a 39-28 victory against Central Arkansas in early October. Because the pandemic was climbing toward a peak at that time, the city of Fargo pushed NDSU to limit attendance to family members of players. A couple of dozen NFL scouts were also on hand to watch Bison players Trey Lance, Dillon Radunz and others.
Attendance was officially listed at 471. NDSU had planned on having a capacity of 10,000 for that game, although pregame ticket sales indicated attendance wasn't going to reach that.
That COVID-19 numbers are in a much better place, and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum's subsequent dialing back of restrictions on gatherings, is the reason the Bison can allow a half-filled dome. North Dakota had the second-lowest number of new cases per capita in the country over the last week, behind only naturally isolated Hawaii, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Masks will be required, seating will be arranged to keep distance between groups of spectators and fans are urged to park nearest their entrance door to minimize contact with other people.
Tailgating in the dome's west parking lot, an immensely popular staple of Bison football games, will not be allowed. No recreational buses or trailers will be allowed into the parking lots until the stadium is allowed at 100% capacity.
Other Missouri Valley Football Conference programs hosting games on opening weekend will also have limited fans, all of them under stricter prohibitions than NDSU.
North Dakota will allow a maximum of 4,000 fans into the Alerus Center for the Fighting Hawks' game against Southern Illinois on Saturday. Associate athletic director Kyle Doperalski said UND expects 2,200-2,300 tickets will be produced before walk-up sales. UND has a home hockey series the same weekend as the football opener.
Northern Iowa expects to be near the maximum capacity of 2,715 at the UNI Dome for its Friday game against South Dakota State. Much of the capacity will be filled by player pass list attendees, a spokesman said.
Missouri State's capacity for its Saturday game against Illinois State will be 6,000, but because the tickets are in pods of six, a single ticket sale would kill the rest of the seats in that pod. The reality is it's more of a 3,000 capacity. A spokesman didn't have a crowd estimate when asked Friday. It's unlikely to be large, though, given Missouri State's lack of success in football and the fact it has an outdoor stadium.