ATHENS — The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry will have a decidedly different look and feel on account of COVID-19 protocol.
Georgia’s Senior Deputy Athletics Director Josh Brooks took time out for the Ingles On The Beat Show on Monday night to explain just how different things will be and what fans should expect.
The No. 4-ranked Bulldogs are playing host to No. 7-ranked Auburn at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday. Sanford Stadium gates will open two hours before the game, and the parking lots will open three hours before the game.
The game will still be played between the hedges, but beyond that, the stadium setting will feature stark changes.
Brooks estimates 22 percent stadium capacity (20,404 plus stadium personnel and essential workers). In all, the total attendance number should approach 22,000.
The game will have a different sound to it, as well.
From what Kirby Smart said he experienced at Arkansas, the net effect won’t be too much different for the players and coaches on the sidelines.
“Once they pumped in the noise it didn’t feel any different,” said Smart, whose team opened with a 37-10 win at Arkansas.
“As a matter of fact, I thought it got pretty loud on third downs between the fans they had and also the crowd noise they pumped in.”
Brooks revealed to DawgNation that the SEC mandates 70 decibels of ambient noise, which schools are allowed to crank up to 90 decibels after big plays.
Here’s more from Brooks on myriad game day topics and the $80 million football building under construction:
“To play off what Kirby always says, it’s to keep the main thing the main thing, and the main thing to us is playing this football game and getting in these four (home) games that we have,” Brooks said. “We know a typical game day brings out thousands of people who don’t have a ticket to just hang out on campus and tailgate and have fun.
“If we were going to be around 20 percent in the stadium, and that’s 18,000 to 22,000, we didn’t need an additional 10,000 to 20,000 on campus complicating things.
“We are trying to give people a little relief, because we know they don’t want to go straight to the stadium. It was our best attempt to offer a solution or compromise without promoting large social gatherings.”
Brooks said he understands Georgia’s ban on tailgating requires some interpretation.
“No tents, no tables, those big setups, anything that promotes a big gathering, we’re asking everyone to be responsible and stay in their (smaller) groups,” Brooks said.
“We are trying to give people a little relief, because we know they don’t want to go straight to the stadium,” He said. “It was our best attempt to offer a solution or compromise without promoting large social gatherings.”
“A few things will be different: You’ll show your ticket to get into parking lot as well as a parking pass, and when you enter the stadium you’ll see social distancing dots outside the gates,” Brooks said. “You’ll have a mobile ticket on your phone, and we’ll have some pedestal scanners to allow you to scan ticket yourself.”
Georgia will be cashless inside the stadium as well, so fans will want to keep their credit cards handy.
Unlike other SEC schools, UGA will have all of its concession stands and restrooms open.
“We felt it was more important to open them up even if there are fewer people,” Brooks said. “This would allow us to give great service, and No. 2, allow people to spread out and avoid long lines.”
The same principles are in effect for the restrooms.
Brooks worked to get as many people into Sanford Stadium as possible while still maintaining the social distancing guidelines.
That will lead to a different pattern of seating than what has been most common around the nation.
Brooks believes his design will also make the stadium look like there is more than just 22-percent capacity on hand. It could look like 40 to 50 percent, he said.
“We knew the majority of our ticket blocks are bought in blocks of four, with a few twos,” Brooks said. “The ticket application process happened in a tight time, so we focused on the fours, that would give a better yield ratio as opposed to twos.
“There were two clear objectives: the first was to maintain social distancing outside of your (seating) blocks,” Brooks said. “The second priority was how do we get as many people in the stadium with that process in mind.”
Brooks said the base level of 70 decibels will be piped in from the onset of the game, as much of the television audience as the fans on hand and the players.
“When we score a touchdown against Auburn we can crank it up to 90 (decibels), and then bring it back own to 70,” Brooks said. “You’ll be able to play your music on top of that, and when the center puts his hand on the ball, the music has to turn off.”
Brooks is also counting on the UGA fans.
“On top of that ambient noise, we’ll have our crowd of 20,000-plus that are making noise,” Brooks said. “The people that are coming, these are the people that are jacked up and excited to be there, and those 18,000 to 20,000 can make some noise.
“And I guarantee you, our crowd can make a lot of noise.”
The football building
Fans driving down Lumpkin Street will take note that the skyline around Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall has shifted.
“We met early on with Josh Lee and Coach (Kirby) Smart, and it’s about the student-athlete experience, and how do we promote efficiencies, how do we improve their daily life and their experience,” Brooks said. “The first key component was the weight room. So we’re building a 24,000 square foot space, with a two-story ceiling that really gives them great space to work in large groups at a time.
“If we can work out bigger groups at one time, we can give them the prime hours and give them back their time and better scheduling options for classes and study hall.”
The objective is to create an area for the players to gather and build a sense of community and team chemistry.
“We’re trying to create a place where our student-athletes will want to spend time, and come to hang out, give them a second home,” Brooks said. “It has everything else you can imagine, from a player lounge to sports medicine, every bell and whistle.
“The coaches’ offices and the meeting rooms, you name it. This gives us so much room to operate and improve the experience from A to Z for our student athletes.”
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