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Moody Nolan Serves as a Trusted Partner for Ohio State

July 09, 2020
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In less than 24 hours, what started as a simple tweet turned into a simulated plan that could hold a large influence on how Ohio Stadium looks when college football returns.

It was the evening of May 20. From his Twitter account, Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith tweeted a projection on what fan capacity could look like at Ohio Stadium when Buckeye football is played again, in response to inquiries from fans wondering how COVID-19 might impact the upcoming football season.

“Under physical distance guidelines [Ohio Stadium’s capacity] could be as low as 22,000, but also may be as many as 40,000 – 50,000 if guidelines are relaxed,” Smith tweeted.

Soon after, came the comments, retweets and even a call from a reporter.

Smith’s numbers were just projections. When talking to the media, Smith wanted perspective that was more scientific, so he quickly contacted one of his trusted partners, Curt Moody at Moody Nolan.

The ties between Curt Moody and Ohio State go way back. Moody is an Ohio State alumnus and a former Buckeye basketball player. His architectural firm, Moody Nolan, designed some of the campus’ most recognizable structures that include The Jerome Schottenstein Center, the Recreation and Physical Activity Center (RPAC), the Ohio Union and the Covelli Center.

“We talk to Gene Smith regularly on a lot of projects and topics,” said Moody Nolan architect Troy Sherrard, who leads the firm’s sports and recreation studio. “So, he gave the reporter our contact information.”

Moody assigned Sherrard to the project, and on the same night, the reporter called.

“He said, can we interview you the next morning?” said Sherrard. “I told him I had just heard about the request and I can try to put together a model from an architect’s perspective. Using geometry to simulate what proper social distancing might look like in the venue.”

“The reporter said, that’d be great, we’ll see you tomorrow, bye.”

It was after 5 p.m. Sherrard had just committed to an interview for the next morning to discuss a hypothetical capacity model of Ohio Stadium that didn’t, at the time, exist. He knew he had his work cut out for him.

“Luckily, I caught a few colleagues (Cassandra Bukowski, Kris Cochran and Austin Wessels) before they finished their workday, so they could help me run some model scenarios,” said Sherrard.

The team started by building a digital replica of Ohio Stadium’s key seating sections using Moody Nolan’s computer modeling software. To accurately portray the approximate capacity of each section and row of Ohio Stadium, the group used Ticketmaster and StubHub, event ticketing websites.

“We were using whatever data points we could find quickly,” said Sherrard.

By May, the creation of simulated capacity models was nothing new, as event spaces all around the country were, and still are, trying to figure out possible ways to reopen safely. But Sherrard found that the approach he and his team took was a little different.

“Most people were looking at individuals going to an event with 6 feet of separation for social distancing, but we were saying, to maximize capacity, you would want to sell tickets in common groups, like friends and families, and then study social distance from the groups,” said Sherrard.

So, the team created a model that filled the stadium’s sections with people sitting in groups of two, four, six and even eight with 6 feet of separation. Six hours after starting on the project, at around midnight, the team concluded with a hypothetical model that allowed for a seating capacity of 18-20% on average for the 105,000-seat stadium.

“The good part of it was it came out to be very close to Gene’s projection,” said Sherrard.

Later that morning, Sherrard took part in the interview, sharing what he and his team had created.

Since the interview, Sherrard and Moody Nolan have been asked to work with Ohio State’s ticket office to further strategize on seating charts and ticket distribution.

To date, Ohio State has not released its plans for holding its next football games at Ohio Stadium. The entire sport is still trying to figure out if playing, and playing in front of fans, is a viable option, as several programs have recently announced that collections of athletes have tested positive for COVID-19. Though Moody Nolan’s simulated model and its trusted council on athletic venues will certainly serve as a valuable resource to Gene Smith and his athletic department team as they try to finalize a future plan.

“There are so many other factors that have to be considered around social behavior to open safely, while ensuring CDC and WHO guidelines are followed. How do they handle loading fans in and out of the stadium? What about use of restrooms, concourses and concessions during games? There’s a lot to figure out, but we’re happy to play a role,” said Sherrard.