No fans allowed for Navy football season opener against BYU amid coronavirus concerns

In this file photo, the midshipmen march onto the field prior to a game against Holy Cross on Aug. 31, 2019. There will be no fans in attendance at the Navy football season opener against BYU on Labor Day because of coronavirus concerns.
In this file photo, the midshipmen march onto the field prior to a game against Holy Cross on Aug. 31, 2019. There will be no fans in attendance at the Navy football season opener against BYU on Labor Day because of coronavirus concerns. (Paul W. Gillespie/Capital Gazette)

There will be no fans in attendance at the Navy football season opener in Annapolis because of coronavirus concerns.

The Naval Academy Athletic Association sent an email to season ticket holders on Wednesday afternoon alerting them of the decision for the game during Labor Day weekend. Navy later confirmed the decision in a prepared statement.Ads by TeadsADVERTISING

Athletic Director Chet Gladchuk wrote in the email to season ticket holders that fans will not be allowed inside or on the grounds of Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium for the Sept. 7 opener versus Brigham Young University.

“Today, in our judgment, fans in the stands, even socially distanced and with a wide array of protocols in place, still present a concerning risk for COVID transmission,” Gladchuk said. “This includes fans in large hospitality areas as well as parking and tailgating.”

At present, that decision extends to the Brigade of Midshipmen. Gladchuk said the NAAA is seeking a waiver from the state to allow the Brigade of Midshipmen to attend the game in a socially distant and safe manner.

Gladchuk offered hope for fans to attend Navy’s other four home games this season.

“We are still optimistic there will be home football games this season where our season ticket holders will be extended the opportunity to personally attend,” he wrote in the statement released by Navy. “Improving conditions may dictate justification to open our gates in a setting with extensive safety protocols being appropriately administered.”

In an interview with The Capital, Gladchuk said the Naval Academy Athletic Association has been in regular contact with the Maryland and Anne Arundel County health officials with regard to large group gatherings.

“Governmental guidelines, coupled with good conscience, coupled with being responsible have led us to this decision today,” he said. “It comes from an understanding the [coronavirus] issue has not been resolved; It’s been mitigated to some degree. However, still a very significant threat. All the state and local guidelines coincide with our thinking.”

Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo acknowledged it would be “weird” playing a home football game without fans but agreed with the decision.

“It’s the right thing to do. I think the message has always been that we’re going to do everything possible to keep people safe,” Niumatalolo said during an online news conference on Wednesday afternoon. “Obviously, we’d like to have people in the stands, but better to err on the side of caution.”

Niumatalolo said he normally dresses as many players as possible for Navy home games. However, that will not be the case this season as only the bare minimum needed to play will suit up.

Gladchuk’s email to season ticket holders included a “special request” to not seek refunds. It outlines three preferred options of retaining, donating or crediting season tickets already purchased.

“The financial conditions we are facing are unprecedented and extraordinary,” the email stated. “The loss of critical operating revenue for the NAAA is of great significance. For this season only, help us address the most challenging season in the history of college football, Navy football and the NAAA.”

Matt Munnelly, Navy’s senior associate athletic director for ticket operations, said this week that approximately 14,000 season tickets have been sold for 2020. Gladchuk noted in the email to season ticket holders that government restrictions will likely result in attendance being limited to 30 percent of capacity at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

That means if fans are allowed to attend Navy home football games this season, there will be no general ticket sales. Only season ticket holders will be offered seats.

Gladchuk said NAAA anticipated from the outset that many season ticket holders would not want to attend home football games because of concerns about coronavirus. He was “optimistic” a significant number of folks would not ask for their money back.

“I think everyone in the Navy family understands that we’re against the wall right now with regard to meeting our expenses,” Gladchuk said. “We’re asking everyone to stay on the team, step up and help us get through this.”

Customers agreeing to retain or donate their season tickets will be rewarded with a brass nameplate in their honor affixed to a seat in the section reserved for the Brigade of Midshipmen.

Retired Vice Adm. Ed Straw did not hesitate in responding to NAAA that he would retain his season tickets despite not being allowed to attend the BYU game and possibly others. The Washington, D.C., resident urged others to follow suit because all 33 Navy varsity sports rely on football revenue.

“For those that can afford it, I think it’s a great idea to retain or donate your tickets in order to support the athletic association,” Straw said.

Straw, 80, admitted he likely would not attend any home games this season even if fans are allowed.

“I’m not convinced this thing has gone away and I’m not willing to take chances by attending a tailgate or sitting inside a stadium,” said Straw, who along with his wife has not socialized since March.

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Bill Wagner has worked for Capital Gazette Newspapers for 30 years. He served as beat writer for Navy athletics and general assignment sports reporter. He is also the sailing editor.