Last week, Churchill Downs announced that spectators will be allowed at the Kentucky Derby on September 5, making it the first major sporting event with fans in attendance since the coronavirus pandemic began. Two days prior to the Derby, Kentucky will host its first football game of the season at Kroger Field. Not surprisingly, UK Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart said the decision on whether or not fans will be allowed in has yet to be made as everyone waits to see what the virus will do in the coming weeks.
“We’re working our way through all those details,” Barnhart said during cheerleading head coach Ryan Martin O’Connor’s introductory press conference on Zoom this morning. “I think there’s going to be clearly conversations as it relates to activities in our state. There’s clearly conversations that will take place as it relates to activities in our league. We’ve got to combine all these pieces of information and pull them together in a spot where it’s best for the University of Kentucky and our fanbase. We’re not there yet.”
Over the past month, the Kentucky Football team returned to campus in stages for voluntary activities. The basketball team is currently doing the same, and will go through the screening process this week. Barnhart said that as the calendar counts down to July and August, the university’s focus is shifting from “return to activities” to “return to play.”
“That’s encouraging to me that we will have opportunities to bring our people back together but that’s one component and one piece in return to play, and I’ve said it publicly before, there’s a difference between return to activity and a return to play. We focused initially on return to activity. We’re still working on that, but we’re also turning our attention more closely as we get closer to certain dates that we have in front of us to return to play.”
Still, Barnhart said the mere thought of fans at an event like the Kentucky Derby is a promising sign for sports moving forward.
“I think that was tremendous. It was great news that we took a step to allowing fans to venues and that was great but obviously each venue is different and sporting events are different. You’ve seen a lot of club baseball, club softball, little league sports have begun to come back and play and people are gathering so that will be things we will keep an eye on and continue to watch but absolutely in conversation with all the folks that need to be in the decision-making process to bring fans back to Kroger Field.”