Students could return to the University of Minnesota campus for fall semester, keeping hope alive for a Gophers sports comeback as well.

University President Joan Gabel wrote Friday in a letter to students, faculty and staff that she is recommending the Board of Regents allow in-person classes to resume this coming semester. Instruction had been online since spring break because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Gabel also will advocate for finishing classes before Thanksgiving.

The board will vote on this plan Thursday and Friday.

The main takeaway

Should the university decide no students can return to campus in the fall, that likely would mean fall sports would also halt. If Gabel’s recommendation passes, sports’ return becomes probable. But in what form is vague.

It seems likely there will be either no fans at football games in the fall or at least significantly reduced capacity. That’s according to some plans from programs such as Iowa State, which has already announced it’s unlikely to sell single-game tickets for this season. With about 22,000 current season-ticket holders, Iowa State anticipates it will fill the 50% capacity limit of the 60,500-seat stadium.

Shortening the season to only conference play, even delaying the season to start in winter, are options. But with football as the largest revenue-generating sport in college athletics, the NCAA and universities alike seem committed to having some sort of 2020 season.

What’s next?

The NCAA has cleared on-campus team activities, and Big Ten football programs such as Ohio State and Iowa plan to return to workouts Monday. Nebraska is already back this week.

The Gophers men’s basketball team is eyeing a June 21 return to campus, according to sources, though that hasn’t been made official. Whenever the athletic department begins bringing student-athletes back, it will be a staggered approach, allowing the football team back first, for example, before allowing the next round of teams a week or so later.

Yahoo Sports reported Thursday the NCAA Division I Council, which meets next week, could formalize what football practices will look like this summer, including a six-week training camp.

What’s at stake?

The Gophers athletic department already has lost $10 million in revenue from canceled spring sports and could miss out on $75 million if there are no fall sports. A scenario with games played and no fans in the stands would result in the Gophers losing about $30 million.

To rectify some of this financial fallout, athletic director Mark Coyle as well as other senior staff and head coaches have taken pay cuts while the department continues to look at other ways to tighten the budget.

Staff writer Marcus Fuller contributed to this report.