ATHENS — SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey sees a light at the end of the Covid-19 tunnel, but packed-out stadiums are still not a given for next season, and certainly not spring games.
Georgia football begins spring drills on March 16 with sights set on April 17 for the annual G-Day Game.
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The entirety of the Bulldogs’ 2020 spring football was wiped out by the Covid-19 pandemic, of course, so the mere act of having 15 spring football practices including the public exhibition at Sanford Stadium represents significant progress.
Based on Sankey’s interview with St. Louis Post-Dispatch writer Dave Matter on Saturday, however, it seems certain attendance will continue to be limited for the Bulldogs’ annual G-Day Game by Covid-19 protocol.
“We rely on our doctors,” Sankey said, asked about the likelihood of packed-out SEC stadiums this fall. “I think there’s some light at the end of this right now. You see a really severe downward trend, generally, in numbers, but we’re still having people affected.”
Georgia remained slightly above the national norm for Covid-19 positive tests, as of Sunday representing 4.3-percent of the total cases in the U.S. while accounting for 3.2 percent of the U.S. population, per global data tracked by Johns Hopkins University, Worldometer, the Georgia department of public health and the CDC.
Even so, if one were to take all of the 72,378 active individuals carrying Covid-19 in Georgia and place them into Sanford Stadium, most all of the second-tier seats would be empty, per Mark Kooyman, CEO of EXPERIENCE Insight Group.
New Georgia athletic director Josh Brooks designed the Covid-19 spacing at Sanford Stadium last fall, and from all indications, his planning worked out magnificently.
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“If you look at the scenario where all these people have come together for sporting events, we’re not seeing a radical impact from that,” Kooyman said, reflecting on Covid-19 data gleaned from last season’s sporting events.
“The core basic geographics have not changed.”
Still, Sankey insinuates the SEC’s strategy for managing events during the national pandemic will remain the same for the foreseeable future.
“Our thinking about how we adapt needs to be maintained,” Sankey said. “We can’t become complacent as a society or as a conference. There’s some hope that in the fall we can move back towards normal, but I am not able to guarantee that.”
Georgia football opens the season on Sept. 4 in Charlotte, N.C., against Clemson in what’s already being billed as the “Game of the Year” when the two Top 5 teams meet.
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The Bulldogs managed just three home games last season, and the recently released 2021 slate reveals only six, with the neutral site game in Charlotte and the rivalry game with Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
Sankey said the SEC must be prepared to maintain flexibility, even as numbers have improved and vaccines have been introduced, and adjust appropriately.
“We announced a football schedule on Wednesday, and I followed it up with my mantra from last year,” Sankey said, “which is we’re going to prepare to play the season as scheduled but recognizing the circumstances around the virus are going to guide us in our decision making.”