Picture about 62,000 fans gathered to cheer for Missouri football and new coach Eliah Drinkwitz as the Tigers welcome an opponent to a sold-out Memorial Stadium.

Reality probably will look nothing like that in 2020.

Athletic departments across the country are facing a number of challenging questions in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic that has brought sports to a standstill: Will there be a college football season, and if so, when will it start and what will it look like?

The latter two questions only matter after an answer to the first is determined. But as Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk and fellow administrators across the country grapple with unenviable decisions, it is becoming increasingly clear that the game day experience may hardly resemble what fans are accustomed to.

"Where I’m at is I want to see events happen in the fall," Sterk said during a Zoom call Thursday afternoon. "Where that normal falls for the fall?"

That question seems more rhetorical than anything at this point.

In immediate response to his own inquiry, Sterk spoke about listening in on a session Thursday by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics, which surveyed about 600 people on how comfortable they were returning to live events.

"Some people said, ‘I’m never going to another event again in my life,’" Sterk recalled. "The same percentage were, ‘I’m going no matter what, I’m gonna go to an event.’ And then probably in the middle was about 75% of the people, they want to feel safe and they want to go to sporting events because that’s their normal life.

"What we have to do is really make people feel comfortable by the fall of going to an event as best we can."

Sterk said his department will follow guidance from university and public health officials as well as coordinate with a coronavirus task force developed by the SEC. Missouri’s task force representative is Dr. Stevan Whitt of MU Health Care.

Fans should expect social distancing at football games they attend this fall, Sterk said, and MU is determining how people could remain at least 6 feet apart.

"Does that mean 10%, 20%, 50% of the facility? I don’t know," Sterk said of the percentage of regular capacity that would be allowed inside Memorial Stadium, though he cautioned that no decision has to be made until the middle of July. "A full one (stadium) right now without a vaccine probably is not something you’ll see."

If capacity is at 10% for MU home games, about 6,000 fans could attend. The venue would house just over 12,000 fans at 20% full and just over 30,000 at half-full.

The NFL’s Miami Dolphins, for example, are planning for limited crowds of 15,000 in Hard Rock Stadium, a venue that seats about 65,000, club president Tom Garfinkel said this week, according to the Palm Beach Post.

"It can be done and we’ll look for the best way to do it," Sterk said.

If there must be a limit on fans in attendance, the next dilemma becomes who can come. Would priority be given to students? To the highest-dollar donors?

"I’ll kick that can as long and far as I can until July 15," Sterk responded Thursday, acknowledging "we would have to be ready for scenarios like that."

Beyond the fans, the university faces considerations about how to safely host all coaches and players on game day. Then you account for the referees. The equipment managers. The concession stand workers. The press corps.

There also are the matters of parking, entering/exiting the stadium and restrooms.

"There’s all kinds of layers about that," Sterk said. "(Deputy athletic director) Nick (Joos) and I were talking about, are we going to have social distancing in the press box? How far does that go and how do we do that? All of those are unanswered questions yet but great questions and things that we have to consider and try by the middle of July to make the best decision on those."

Fellow SEC schools are facing similar situations, including at Georgia where athletic director Greg McGarity said Wednesday that his department is running models on various social distancing mandates and what it would mean for college football.

"I don’t think it’s ever going to be business as usual," McGarity told the Athens Banner-Herald, "because there’s going to be new standards in play as far as hygiene, the way we look at concessions, the way we look at seating."

Sterk said it would be feasible to hold football games in completely empty stadiums despite the financial challenges that would present, though he didn’t elaborate.

More importantly, he said, is "the status of the campus at the time."

"I think there’s been misinterpretation, if you will, about if there’s no classes, then there’s no college football," he said. "Well, if there’s some classes or the campus is operational, then I think there can be football. Maybe it’s the first of July they decide to go online. Or like the Cal State system, they said they were going to go online. What does that mean to athletics, I don’t think they have all the answers to that yet, but it doesn’t necessarily prevent athletics from going on if people are on campus."

UM System President Mun Choi said the Columbia campus, for which he is also the interim chancellor, plans to begin a gradual reopening process over the next few weeks, with the goal of having students return to campus for classes this fall.

Sterk didn’t rule out delaying college football until next spring, though he said his full attention remains on how to make fall sports viable.

"That’s probably one of the 12 options we’ve looked at but not spending much time on that right now," he said of pushing football back to the spring. "The fall is the focus. … I think we need to focus on the fall. Who knows what the spring brings? I’d rather deal with the present and try to have a season in the fall if things are in the right status, if you will, with the health officials, and I think the officials are gonna drive that.

"If it gets to that point, then yeah, we’re gonna look at it, but that’s far down the road."