ATLANTA — To be sure, what Georgia is doing this week is unusual. Unprecedented actually.
Not the playing for the national championship, which is unusual and unprecedented for UGA’s football program. No, the Bulldogs, who already have traveled here for the College Football Playoff National Championship Game and checked into the team hotel at the Downtown Hyatt, are busing back to Athens on Saturday to practice within their facilities at the Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall football complex.
So when decisions were being made about where the Bulldogs would practice on Saturday, coach Kirby Smart asked organizers about being able to do it in his own place. Permission was granted.
“We planned this out long before the Rose Bowl Game,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said during the CFP championship game’s media day Saturday morning at Philips Arena. “We had to have a lot of logistics in place before then. Our operations staff does a tremendous job of planning things out, and it’s tough planning for two games when you haven’t won the first one yet, but we had no way to do it without that.
“We thought it would be best to be in our normal setting, which was to be in our meeting rooms, our training rooms, in our recovery rooms and on our practice field.”
That’s good for Georgia. But it’s somewhat surprising that the College Football Playoff’s organizing committee would allow it. The general philosophy of conducting a national championship game at a neutral site is the competing parties are subjected to the same circumstances and conditions.
At least in the playoff era, that hasn’t been an option for any of the previous participants. And it’s not for Alabama, which is more than 200 miles and a 3-hour drive away from its facilities in Tuscaloosa, Ala. But the championship game this year is being played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which happens to be 65 miles door-to-door from Georgia’s $31 million indoor practice facility in Athens.
Alabama coach Nick Saban indicated he doesn’t have a problem with it.
“I’ve got enough to worry about with our team,” Saban said during his turn at media day. “I’m sure their coaching staff is capable enough of making the right decisions for what they do. I’m worried about what we’re going to do in practice today. I’m worried about our team.”
Smart insisted it wasn’t about trying to gain a competitive edge over his former employer. It was simply difficult to locate a facility that meets all their needs.
“It’s tough to find places to practice here,” Smart said. “Once you say ‘go back to the Falcons’ indoor’ [in Flowery Branch] or Georgia Tech’s, we felt like we could be back in our place in almost the same time and obviously could be in a little more familiar place. We asked permission of the CFP and they granted that.”
The downside is it means the Bulldogs will spend more time on buses. Even with a Georgia State Patrol escort, it takes more than an hour to commute one way on the tour buses provided by the CFP.
Georgia players insist it doesn’t bother them in the least.
“I’ll just listen to music like I always do,” junior center Lamont Gaillard said.