SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – After playing a shortened home schedule in 2020 without the roar of the crowd, the University of Utah football program will soon be opening Rice Eccles Stadium to fans again.

Starting with the spring game on April 17, the university will be allowing 6,500 fans into the stadium. The plan is to be at full capacity – near 50,000 – when the season begins in the fall.

“It’ll be great,” says head coach Kyle Whittingham on how it will feel to have fans back at Rice Eccles Stadium. “It’s a step in the right direction and we’re hoping we’ll be able to be at full capacity in the fall. That may be a little optimistic, but that’s what we’re hoping for.”

The Utes last played in front of fans at Rice Eccles Stadium on Nov. 30, 2019. The pandemic forced the Pac-12 Conference to play an abbreviated schedule in 2020, giving Utah just three home games in a nearly empty stadium last season.

Not only are the coaches and players excited to have the stadium open, but the fans themselves are also chomping at the bit to get back to watching Utah football in person. According to Utah deputy athletic director Scott Kull, nearly all of the tickets that went on sale last Friday were almost completely sold out within two hours.

“That to me is a pretty good indication of the excitement,” Kull tells ABC4. “People want to get back to Rice Eccles Stadium and see our team.”

Fans won’t just see the team back on the field at the spring game, they will also have a look at the progress being made in the south end of the stadium. Construction is underway on the Ken Garff Performance Zone, an $85 million upgrade to Rice Eccles Stadium that will include new locker rooms, VIP luxury box seating, and 5,000 additional seats. The upgrade will convert the stadium’s horseshoe shape into a fully enclosed ring of seating around the field.

Utes to honor Ty Jordan

While it surely will be thrilling for the Utes to be back in front of fans for the first time since 2019, it will also be bittersweet for the team and its supporters. Utah will be playing with a heavy heart this season after the passing of star running back Ty Jordan, who died from an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound on Christmas.

The football program plans on memorializing Jordan, beginning with a symbolic offering on tickets for the spring game. Bundles of four to the game were sold for $22, a reflection of Jordan’s jersey number. All sales were also directed to the Ty Jordan Memorial Scholarship Fund, which was founded shortly after his passing.

“He was such a great young man, a great player as well,” says Kull of Jordan, who was honored as the Pac-12 Conference’s Freshman Offensive Player of the Year for his on-field efforts last season. “To be able to honor him with the spring game, with that money going towards his scholarship, it means a lot to our players and coaching staff.”

Kull adds that the athletics department has additional plans to memorialize Jordan throughout the 2021 campaign and will roll out additional details as the season progresses.

Other college football programs make plans for spring

Attendance and actual execution of spring football games around the state have varied.

BYU was scheduled to play a spring game in front of 7,500 masked fans at LaVell Edwards Stadium on March 26, but that was called off. Weather and other factors were cited as reasons for the cancellation. An update to the football program’s schedule announcement reads “BYU anticipates welcoming fans back to LaVell Edwards Stadium this fall and plans to begin ticket sales in May.”

A spokesperson for Utah State football tells ABC4 that the program would play its spring game on April 17 with “limited attendance” and that plans for the fall season would be determined at a later date.

Weber State is currently in season and is limiting attendance to its home football games to 5,000 fans. The Wildcats are 4-0 on the year and are ranked No. 3 in the national FCS rankings. Weber State is also scheduled to play in the fall and is slated to take on Utah in the first game of the 2021 season at Rice Eccles Stadium on Sept. 2.

Southern Utah, while requiring all fans to wear masks, did not put on a limit on the capacity for the Thunderbirds’ most recent home game against Weber State.

Dixie State wrapped up its 2021 season with an announced capacity limit of 5,000 for the spring.