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Fans return to FedExForum in limited numbers

With about half of the season completed, the University of Memphis has decided to offer a limited number of tickets in an effort to protect both fans and players during the on-going COVID-19 pandemic. So students and Tiger basketball fans should act fast if they want to score tickets this season. 

“Players and our patrons’ health and safety were the primary factor in these decisions,” said Adam Walker, executive associate athletic director for the University of Memphis. 

Walker said that the decision was made in accordance with guidelines set forth by the Shelby County Health Department and the American Athletic Conference, as well as those set by the University’s athletic department and the FedexForum. 

In Health Directive 17, the most recent set of coronavirus guidelines for Memphis, the Shelby County Health Department mandated that groups at sporting events must be seated six feet apart and groups cannot be any larger than six people. 

“The six-foot distance is recommended for all gatherings of any persons who do not live in the same household,” said Joan Carr, a public information officer for the Shelby County Health Department. 

She said this recommendation comes from the CDC and is designed to prevent the spread of the virus among the fans. Approximately 3,600 tickets are available for each game. Walker said that seating was 

first offered to season ticket holders based on annual giving priority. After that, the general public was allowed to purchase tickets. 

Carr said that the number of tickets available is based on measurements taken by FedexForum, which allowed it to predict how many fans could attend while still remaining six feet apart. 

“Having some fans is better than no fans at all,” Walker said. 

He said that less fan attendance decreases home court advantage for the 

team, but that he is grateful to the Shelby County Health Department and FedexForum for their collaboration that has made fan attendance possible. 

Payton Gleason, a junior sport coaching major at the University of Memphis, described the experience at the first game with a semi-full arena this season. 

“It was definitely weird,” Gleason said. 

He said that it felt like there were only about 500 people in attendance last Thursday, a stark contrast to games that he had attended prior to the pandemic – when the arena would fill to near capacity. To compensate for the lack of cheering, artificial crowd noise was played through the speakers. 

He said that college games typically draw even more fans than Memphis Grizzlies games, making it odd to see so few people. Although the experience was different, Gleason said that he felt the staff did a really good job of keeping everyone safe. 

“Concessions were closed, so no one had to to take (masks) off to eat or anything,” Gleason said. 

The decision to allow a limited number of fans came as the COVID-19 virus continues to tear through Shelby County. According to recent data by the Shelby County Health Department, 1,154 Memphians have died from the disease and there are 5,571 active cases. 

The state of the virus in Shelby County prompted the University of Memphis to change course on its decision to offer in-person instruction for many classes for the spring semester. An email sent to students on Jan. 16 said that University of Memphis faculty were asked to delay in-person instruction until there is a better sense of community health conditions. 

“If you look at universities across the country, we have seen so many open to disastrous results and have to close,” said Dr. Matthew Haught, a professor at the University. 

Haught said that similar results have been avoided at the University of Memphis because of the restraint that the school has exercised in reopening. 

The University plans to offer limited in-person instruction in the coming weeks, according to Haught, and students are encouraged to check emails and syllabi to stay informed about their classes.

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