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LSU athletic director Scott Woodward on the sidelines in the second half of the Tigers' 45-38 win over Texas, Saturday, September 7, 2019, at Darrell K. Royal - Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas.

Athletic director Scott Woodward continues to believe LSU will play football this fall with fans in the stands, but a final decision will not come until sometime in July.

Woodward spoke Thursday during a virtual town hall with The Advocate. He addressed a wide range of topics, from protests of police brutality to financial implications of the coronavirus pandemic and a possible game against Michigan.

Woodward thinks LSU will let fans inside Tiger Stadium this fall because he believes they are “willing to assume some risk” with their health. He compared the decision to driving 65 mph on the highway instead of imposing a 15 mph speed limit.

“We're willing to assume some risk, and I think fans are getting to that,” Woodward said. “I think football is to the point to where fans really want that and they will assume some risk.”

Woodward, a self-proclaimed optimist, has maintained a positive outlook since sports shut down across the country almost three months ago. As states enter the next phases of their reopenings and student-athletes return to campus this week, Woodward feels upbeat about the prospect of football season.

“I am very, very optimistic we're going to play football,” Woodward said, “and that we're going to play in front of a lot of fans.”

When college football comes back, what will it look like? How would LSU go about filling one-third of Tiger Stadium to observe social distancing? What about non-revenue sports?

Three months still remain until LSU’s season opener against UTSA. Football players returned to campus this week for voluntary workouts, marking a critical step toward fall competition, but LSU and the Southeastern Conference will not reach a final decision on games until July. They want to gather as much information as possible before making an announcement.

Woodward has planned for a typical football season, but he recognized LSU may have to alter its strategy if coronavirus cases spike or states re-enter stay-at-home orders. He has prepared for the worst while hoping for the best.

“We need football,” Woodward said. “This culture needs football. This state needs football. This community needs football. I'm very positive looking forward that we are going to play football this fall.”

Over the next month, LSU administrators intend to evaluate different scenarios for how to safely host games inside Tiger Stadium. Woodward said LSU may enforce social distancing, stagger entry based on sections, utilize disinfecting mists as fans walk through the gates or take temperature readings.

Woodward hasn’t decided how many fans LSU can host this season. He will advocate for as close to full capacity as possible, but he encouraged at-risk individuals to watch from home. He asked his parents, both over 80 years old, to watch potential games on television.

“It's premature,” Woodward said. “We just don't know how we're going to do this yet.”

The majority of questions for Woodward focused on logistics of the upcoming football season, but he answered a range of topics during his hour-long interview, starting with his feelings on protests of police brutality taking place across America since George Floyd, an unarmed black man, died last week during an arrest in Minneapolis. A police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes.

“For me, personally, it’s appalling what went on in Minnesota and what’s gone on in our nation for far too long,” Woodward said. “We have to be sensitive to what’s going on out there and practice what we’re doing with actions. Not hollow words.”

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Woodward said many LSU student-athletes are "hurting" in the wake of Floyd's death. Some participated in protests this week in Baton Rouge, while others have denounced racism and inequality through social media platforms. Earlier this week, at least five LSU coaches released statements seeking positive change. 

As the leader of the athletic department, Woodward said he spoke to members of the women’s basketball and football teams this week. The women’s basketball team had shared a joint statement Monday expressing frustration over continued racism. Many football players shared their opinions on social media. Woodward wanted to understand their feelings and personal experiences.

"The most important thing we can do is have empathy and compassion," Woodward said. "As white males, we have no idea what our African-American brethren are going through right now."

The topics shifted, and Woodward discussed LSU athletics’ financial status. The coronavirus pandemic hurt budgets across the country, forcing some schools to cut sports and personnel, but Woodward said LSU remains in a “very healthy situation,” allowing him to avoid “any draconian cuts.”

Meanwhile, LSU announced earlier this week it scheduled future games against Southern and Grambling for the first time. Woodward felt pleased with the agreement and supported playing opponents within the state. He wants to continue the practice.

“I tell our band you better step it up,” Woodward said. “They're coming. The Human Jukebox can rock it. It's a win for everyone.”

Though LSU will have played every major in-state opponent by 2023, Woodward doesn’t foresee more games against Tulane anytime soon. The Green Wave want a home-and-home series, Woodward said, and LSU prefers to host its in-state opponents.

“It just doesn't make sense for us,” Woodward said. “Playing one-offs, we're all ears.”

Woodward said LSU has also talked to Michigan about a future game between the traditional college football powers. The Wolverines’ athletic director, Warde Manuel, is a New Orleans native, and the teams have never played each other. Woodward hopes it happens.

At the same time, though neutral site games have lost favor amongst college football administrators, LSU might have one in the works.

“There happens to be a new stadium in the NFL being built,” Woodward said, grinning. “That might be a great place to have a neutral site game.”

Lastly, LSU constructed a plaque for the 2019 national championship team outside Tiger Stadium. It sits next to three previous national championship plaques.

The school prepared another open space, but not for the undefeated 1908 team, as some suspected. LSU has not recognized it as a national championship squad. This fifth space waits for another team.

Said Woodward: "They’re preparing for the next national championship.”

Email Wilson Alexander at walexander@theadvocate.com