Beaver Stadium

Beaver Stadium in the afternoon on Saturday, March 20, 2021, in University Park, Pa.

In terms of athletics, what is Penn State best known for?

Is it the scenery of Happy Valley or the historically dominant programs the university sponsors year in and year out?

Realistically, the athletic department’s primary calling card isn’t the product its teams are putting out on the field, court or ice — it’s the atmosphere created by the fans who show up to Penn State sporting events.

Yet, for a full calendar year, that atmosphere was almost nonexistent as the coronavirus pandemic disallowed athletic conferences and leagues across the country from welcoming supporters through the turnstiles.

That year of barren bleachers and quiet concourses will soon come to an end in central Pennsylvania after Penn State Athletics announced Tuesday its intention to return to full capacity at all sporting venues this coming fall.

To put it simply: It’s (almost) time for 110,000 people to pack Beaver Stadium for the first time since 2019. It will be better for the team with an electric atmosphere after a disappointing 2020 season.

According to Gov. Tom Wolf on Thursday, 54.6% of Pennsylvania adults are fully vaccinated and 71.3% of Pennsylvania adults have received at least one dose of a certified coronavirus vaccine.

These numbers — which will only increase by the time James Franklin’s team opens its home slate against Ball State on Sept. 11 — signal the imminent demise of most coronavirus mitigation restrictions across the state.

In fact, plenty of teams and programs in Pennsylvania are already bringing back their fans in bunches. The Philadelphia 76ers and Philadelphia Phillies were permitted to operate at 100% capacity beginning Wednesday, while the Pittsburgh Pirates moved up to 55% capacity starting Thursday.

The precedent is now there for Penn State Athletics to safely and confidently operate as per usual, but what if Murphy’s law rears its ugly head?

There’s currently no restrictions on the amount of students versus the general public who are able to come into Beaver Stadium in the fall. Even if the university requires students to receive the coronavirus vaccine, there’s too many scenarios to control in which people who are unvaccinated may roam the bleachers maskless.

If cases were to rise in Centre County and present a danger to the local community during the university’s fall semester, it would be Penn State’s responsibility to dial back its spectator attendance to account for the wellbeing of its students and the surrounding communities.

Additionally, in this case, Penn State should consider restricting attendance to students and Pennsylvania residents or season ticket holders. Currently, the commonwealth ranks ninth nationally in terms of first doses administered. There’s no way to limit the flow of spectators coming from outside states with vaccination rates that aren’t as stellar if the spread of the virus suddenly worsened.

But that likely won’t be a pressing issue once August rolls around, so Penn State’s administration should cautiously continue to move forward with its plan to put butts in the seats at its sporting venues.

That atmosphere Penn State is best known for is officially on track to make its triumphant return, and that also means the return of something else the university is known to stress: money.

Penn State Athletics announced May 28 its department still netted $7.17 million during the 2020 fiscal year despite the coronavirus pandemic shutting down sports in mid-March of that year.

The effects from the past year of no ticket sales will continue to hurt the department, though, as it still has a “currently anticipated revenue shortfall in [fiscal year] 2021,” Penn State Athletics said in a release.

A crowd of 110,000-plus people filing into Beaver Stadium just might help the university lessen that blow.

Additionally, the comeback of Penn State football could bring back some revenue that may have been lost in the local community during last fall’s lackluster tourism season.

Every passing day, the coronavirus pandemic is beginning to become a thing of the past.

There’s a long way to go, but Penn State Athletics’ embrace of fans at live sporting events is a step in the right direction to normalcy.

Daily Collegian Digital Managing Editor Andrew Porterfield can be reached at abp5641@psu.edu.

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