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AP photo by Wade Payne / Tennessee cheerleaders run onto the field at Neyland Stadium before the Vols' SEC East football matchup against Florida on Sept. 22, 2018, in Knoxville.

NASHVILLE — When the University of Tennessee football team kicks off in late September, the 102,455-seat Neyland Stadium will be three-quarters empty, UT athletic director Phil Fulmer said Tuesday.

"We are anticipating somewhere around the 25% mark, and we hope to be able to achieve that," Fulmer told reporters during a state Capitol news conference with Gov. Bill Lee and UT Chancellor Donde Plowman.

Fulmer, a former UT Vols football coach, said there will also be social distancing and mask requirements at the Knoxville venue. Attendees will be spread out in a stadium where most seats are vacant.

At the same time, Fulmer said university officials are looking at a "$30 million to $40 million loss there that we'll have figure out going forward."

The stadium will be operated with a full complement of staff as well as coronavirus protocols. Officials hope to use electronic tickets.

Officials are looking at limiting gatherings to no more than six people.

And as for the revered "Vol Walk," a walking pep rally, Fulmer said, "Game day traditions like the Vol Walk and the band march could very well be unsafe for everybody concerned, so again, we're kind of making the decision that we would probably not have those."

Plowman said Southeastern Conference guidelines as well as UT athletic officials and medical staff have "created a responsible plan and adapted along the way.

"Players understand their personal responsibility," she said, adding that she is "proud the way they're leading the campus" in areas ranging from wearing face masks to social distancing protocols.

The teams has had 23 coronavirus cases since May, Fulmer said, quickly adding a "good portion came right after July 4 and unfortunately some people gathered too much." He said staff has made it clear to players "to be fully committed ... and stay safe for each other" and their "loved ones."

During his news conference, Lee, state Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn and Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey defended the administration's stance on refusing to release school specific information on student and staff COVID-19 infections and other coronavirus-related issues.

Piercey said federal medical privacy guidelines bar much of that. When challenged by reporters over why a number of other states, as well as some Tennessee local districts, have not had problems releasing the data for parents and the public, the commissioner said her department is federally certified for medical privacy laws and perhaps that's the reason.

Schwinn insisted federal education-specific federal privacy guidelines are even stricter.

Public schools have been opening in Hamilton County and across the state in recent weeks. County schools released information to say there were 13 active employee cases, according to the district's new COVID-19 online data dashboard.

Information on positive cases involving students is not yet available but will be added soon, the Times Free Press has reported.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.

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