Sun Belt Conference Commissioner Keith Gill expressed confidence Thursday that the league will be able to lift certain covid-19 restrictions come the 2021 football season, further opening the possibility for fans and game-day activities to return to Centennial Bank Stadium in the fall.
"I do believe we're going to be able to remove restrictions as it relates to fans," Gill said. "I do believe we'll have bands and spirit back into our venues. That's a real important part of the fabric of college athletics so we all want to get back to that. I'm optimistic that the trends are such that we'll be able to do that."
Gill spoke about the upcoming football season, Arkansas University's recent hires and the challenges covid-19 presented the Sun Belt over the past year, among other topics during a 30-minute virtual conference.
Gill said the Sun Belt has been working with its medical advisory panel since January on the potential options for lifting restrictions on programs, fans and game-day events in the fall. Changes to the conference's protocols will be determined based on the state of covid-19 at the end of the summer. ASU Athletic Director Tom Bowen said on March 11 that he believes at least "60-70%" capacity could be achieved in the fall at Centennial Bank Stadium in 2021.
"We haven't made any decisions yet because it's so early," Gill said. "At the end of the day, the virus is going to dictate what we're able to do in the fall. I'm really optimistic."
Gill said he's met Bowen in the past during his prior stops as the athletic director at San Jose State and Memphis. ASU hired Bowen on March 10 to replace Terry Mohajir. Gill cited Bowen's success in his prior roles as well as his work as consultant in college athletics from 2019 until his hiring this month, and expressed his excitement to work with ASU's new athletic director.
"The hiring of Tom Bowen is tremendous," Gill said. "I think that's another place where the league is elevating itself...I know his reputation in our industry certainly precedes him and it's really terrific."
Gill also praised ASU's hiring of head football Coach Butch Jones following the departure of Blake Anderson after the 2021 season.
"We're really excited about [Jones] joining and looking forward to watching him as he helps to take Arkansas State football to the next level," Gill said. "I think he's another great example of how Sun Belt football has grown in terms of getting a coach of that quality to come and join our conference."