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OU football: Sooners planning for 'full capacity' at home games in 2021 season

An Oklahoma flag is displayed before the Sooners' 28-24 win against TCU at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman on Nov. 23, 2019. The Sooners are hoping to play in front of a "full capacity" crowd in 2021. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]
An Oklahoma flag is displayed before the Sooners' 28-24 win against TCU at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman on Nov. 23, 2019. The Sooners are hoping to play in front of a "full capacity" crowd in 2021. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]

When Jon Harrison caught the touchdown pass to put the Sooners ahead of Nebraska nearly 50 years ago, the crowd around Owen Field made a deafening sound.

This September, when the Sooners and Cornhuskers stage a reunion of their rivalry and celebration of the 50th anniversary of that game, OU hopes to recreate that atmosphere in a way that wouldn’t have been possible in 2020.

In 2021, OU plans to once again welcome full-capacity crowds at Gaylord Family — Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, University of Oklahoma President Joseph Harroz said Friday and athletic director Joe Castiglione reiterated in an email to football ticket-holders.

Both, though, reiterated plans could change.

“We are smart enough to know and honest enough to know that you can’t make any statement that mother nature and God can’t qualify,” Harroz said after the OU Board of Regents meeting at the OU Health Sciences Center. “We’re not reckless. Hopefully we have shown that over the course of this pandemic.”

Capacity at the stadium was limited to 25% to OU football games last season, with similar policies carrying over to other sports, including men’s and women’s basketball.

The Sooners begin their 2021 home schedule Sept. 11 against Western Carolina, a week after their season opener at Tulane on Sept. 4.

“We are excited to again hear the road of our great crowd while delivering for our student-athletes the unparalleled experience of competing on Owen Field,” Castiglione said in the email. “You can rest assured that we will remain vigilant in our preparations, but for now, we are working under the assumption that the stadium will be full.”

On Sept. 18, OU plays Nebraska for the first time since 2010 and the first time in Norman since 2008.

Harroz said positive trends concerning the COVID-19 pandemic — including the growing availability of three vaccines — made it possible to look toward having full-capacity crowds in the fall.

“We have news this week that all adults will have access by the end of May. It puts us in a position to say, ‘We can do it,’” Harroz said.

“And then there’s always the ellipse. We can do it and we’re going to be very careful and thoughtful and deliberate and if circumstances change, all of those qualifications. But we think our fans deserve to know what our best belief about the fall is and it’s that we’ll have a full stadium.”

Capacity limitations and other precautions — including mandatory masking — will remain in place for the remainder of the spring semester, including at Sooners baseball and softball games.

Specific policies for Sooners’ football games, including whether or not masks will be mandated, have not yet been decided.

There still has yet to be a determination on the crowd policy for the annual showdown against Texas at the Cotton Bowl.

“We also know that you will have questions regarding the Red River Showdown and masking policies at that event and in our stadium,” Castiglione said in the email. “Those details are still being finalized, but we appreciate that they are important to you and will share that information when it is available.”

When Sooners’ linebacker Brian Asamoah broke through and met Missouri State’s running back in the backfield for a loss on OU’s first play from scrimmage in 2020, the sound of the crowd was muted in a situation that normally would’ve garnered a big roar.

Lincoln Riley said during the season that the atmosphere — both at home and on the road was a big adjustment in 2020.

“At home, is it easier to get momentum back, is it easier to ride a wave of momentum when you’ve got 90,000 people going nuts in there? Yeah, sure it is,” Riley said during the season. “But you know the road can be equally as challenging at times. Both atmospheres are dulled right now. That’s just the best way to explain it.”

Harroz said it was important to work to bring back full crowds not only for fans who want to go to the games but for the players.

“I hate what they had to go through,” Harroz said, adding that he was happy that athletes who played this season could get an additional year of eligibility from the NCAA. “It really is complicated. There’s still a lot to unpack but on an aggregate basis, I’d say (the 2020 season went) better than most people including I thought was possible when we were looking at this prior to the beginning of the fall semester.”

Related Photos
<strong>OU fans watch the Sooners play Kansas on Nov. 7 at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman. OU won 62-9. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]</strong>

OU fans watch the Sooners play Kansas on Nov. 7 at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman. OU won 62-9. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-1d63da85c43526f8f44853ed21197969.jpg" alt="Photo - OU fans watch the Sooners play Kansas on Nov. 7 at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman. OU won 62-9. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] " title=" OU fans watch the Sooners play Kansas on Nov. 7 at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman. OU won 62-9. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> OU fans watch the Sooners play Kansas on Nov. 7 at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman. OU won 62-9. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-36316984491fc457784c69bf2cbb7061.jpg" alt="Photo - An Oklahoma flag is displayed before the Sooners' 28-24 win against TCU at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman on Nov. 23, 2019. The Sooners are hoping to play in front of a "full capacity" crowd in 2021. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] " title=" An Oklahoma flag is displayed before the Sooners' 28-24 win against TCU at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman on Nov. 23, 2019. The Sooners are hoping to play in front of a "full capacity" crowd in 2021. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> An Oklahoma flag is displayed before the Sooners' 28-24 win against TCU at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman on Nov. 23, 2019. The Sooners are hoping to play in front of a "full capacity" crowd in 2021. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure>
Ryan Aber

Ryan Aber has worked for The Oklahoman since 2006, covering high schools, the Oklahoma City RedHawks, the Oklahoma City Barons and OU football recruiting. An Oklahoma City native, Aber graduated from Northeastern State. Before joining The... Read more ›

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