INDIANAPOLIS—If this was a normal sports year, the Indy Fuel would be starting its 2020-21 season about now at the State Fairgrounds Farmers Coliseum.
But the pandemic has forced all sorts of changes in sports scheduling, and the Fuel announced Friday plans to begin the season in December.
The East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) announced its plans Friday. A specific Fuel schedule is not yet available, but should be coming out soon, according to Communications Director Mark Grainda
Perhaps most importantly, the team expects to have fans in the stands at the Coliseum, which can seat in excess of 6,000 for hockey. But Grainda says social distancing restrictions will probably keep capacity to about half that.
In May, the team said its season would start in October, but the league revised that in August due to the continued COVID-19 outbreak.
The Fuel's 2019-20 season was cut short on March 11 when COVID-19 became an overriding concern. The 2020-2021 regular season is scheduled to end June 6, 2021, much later than usual.
“The ECHL is excited to be able to confirm the beginning of the 2020-21 season by working with our local health officials and the PHPA (Professional Hockey Players' Association) to develop protocols for the safe return of our players, fans, and employees,” said ECHL Commissioner Ryan Crelin. “The ECHL is getting back to hockey, as we all work together to bring live entertainment back to our communities.”
Friday's announcement is significant in other respects. The Fuel is the first of the indoor "winter sports" to offer specific plans for the coming season.
The NBA has indicated it hopes to begin its next season in December or January, with fans in the stands, if possible.
College basketball teams, including Indiana, Purdue and Butler are still working on plans for the coming season.