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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / University of Tennessee athletic director Phillip Fulmer watches an on-field fan competition during a timeout at the Vols' home game against Georgia last Oct. 5.

Updated with more information at 6:05 p.m. on June 4, 2020.

When Phillip Fulmer was Tennessee's head football coach, he never announced the week of a game that his Volunteers were about to win by 24 points.

He's not making any predictions now as athletic director when it comes to the 2020 season amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

During Wednesday night's virtual "Big Orange Connect" program with Vols fans, Fulmer stated that a decision has yet to be made regarding Neyland Stadium attendance structures. The Vols open Jeremy Pruitt's third season as coach on Sept. 5, when they host the Charlotte 49ers guided by former Boyd-Buchanan quarterback and former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga receivers coach Will Healy.

"It hasn't been made, but it's certainly been more positive recently," Fulmer said. "For us to have football, we have to have school, and it looks like we've made the turn toward having the fall semester, though we don't really know what that looks like 100% yet. I would be telling you a lie if I told you I knew exactly what was going to be happening in the stadium in the fall."

Fulmer's comments echoed those made last week by South Carolina athletic director Ray Tanner about Williams-Brice Stadium. Tanner also has the guarded demeanor of a former coach, having guided the baseball Gamecocks to College World Series titles in 2010 and 2011.

"Time is still on our side," Tanner told reporters. "If we made a decision today, we're likely to be wrong, so we're going to wait as long as we can. I would like to think we would have a pretty good crowd."

Multiple colleges across the country have run social-distancing models, with some revealing that a properly distanced 50,000-seat stadium can have a 17% capacity, or 8,500 fans. Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard recently said that, barring a change in that state's health recommendations, no more than 50% capacity will be allowed this fall.

That would translate to 30,000 fans for a Cyclones program that has 22,000 season-ticket holders and would have to determine how the remaining 8,000 tickets per home game would be distributed.

Tennessee has a seven-game home schedule this year highlighted by visits from Florida, which has won 14 of the past 15 meetings against the Vols, and Alabama, which has won 13 straight series meetings under coach Nick Saban. The university has announced that the fall semester will start Aug. 17, fall break will be eliminated and that no in-person classes will be held after Thanksgiving.

Vols football players started arriving to campus Wednesday in preparation for the Southeastern Conference's opening of voluntary workouts Monday.

"I can tell you, it's more positive than it was," Fulmer said, "and whatever we do, we'll be having the safety of our athletes, our coaches and our fans in mind first and foremost."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.

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