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(Wes Blankenship/UGA)
William Barstow hopes the Silver Dawgs will provide the same level of hospitality that Georgia fans enjoyed when they visited Notre Dame in South Bend last September.

Georgia hopes new ‘Silver Dawgs’ will be better than Notre Dame in hospitality, too

Chip Towers

ATHENS – While everybody else was focusing on Georgia’s ticket-price increase for football at Tuesday’s athletic board meeting, I was busy drilling down on the real hard news of the day.

The advent of the “Silver Dawgs.”

Surely you didn’t miss it. The news came out shortly before UGA unveiled its two-tiered, ticket-price increase that will jack up the cost of a ticket to a home game against an SEC or Power 5 opponent (Tier 1) by 25 dollars, from $50 to $75. The cool part is the tickets stayed relatively low for non-Power 5 games (Tier 2). So, fans will pay only $55 (a $5 increase from a year ago) for Austin Peay, Middle Tennessee State and UMass next year. Well, at least until the next increase. This was Georgia’s fourth in 10 years.

These guys were all over Notre Dame’s campus on both the Friday and Saturday that the Georgia Bulldogs and their fans were in town for a football game last September. (Notre Dame Athletics)

Costs also rose significantly for the Bulldogs’ opponents. Georgia is matching the rates at which its fans are charged wherever they go. So, for example, Tennessee fans will pay $110 apiece for their 8,000 tickets at Sanford Stadium, Auburn $125, Georgia Tech $100, and so on. The bad news is Georgia fans will have to pay that much for said tickets when they’re returned to UGA and resold because the opponents’ fans didn’t use them all (see Georgia Tech every time it plays in Athens).

But all that’s just boring sports business stuff, and quite expected, if you ask me.

“A byproduct of success and a good problem to have,” UGA President Jere Morehead said, and I agree.

What was really cool and unexpected was Georgia’s announcement that it would be utilizing the “Silver Dawgs” to serve as campus hosts at the Bulldogs’ home football games in the future.

What in the world are Silver Dawgs, you ask? Well, that has yet to be established. But if you were at the Notre Dame game in South Bend, Ind., this past September, you have an idea what Georgia is shooting for.

While on the beautiful campus occupied by the Fighting Irish, Georgia fans no doubt came in contact there with one or more green-jacketed individuals who were incredibly cheerful and very willing to help. Notre Dame calls those guys its “Guest Services Team.” They are just one small part – and the most visible part — of what is actually an army of personnel that Notre Dame unleashes to provide hospitality for guests visiting their pristine campus on game days. On its website, Notre Dame numbers its “Usher Corps” at 850 people, about 350 of which are volunteers. Many others are full- or part-time employees of the university.

Basically, they are there to make sure spectators – and visiting fans, in particular – have an enjoyable game-day and game-weekend experience. So, they’re deployed all over campus on Fridays and Saturdays of a home game and stationed at key points to answer questions, provide directions to restrooms or points of interest on campus and even to provide historical information.

Among the services Notre Dame’s “Green Jackets” provided Georgia fans was a golf-cart ride across campus. (UND Athletics)

The green-jacketed guest services team members are particularly helpful. Some of them drive around campus on Fridays and Saturdays in golf carts. They’ll pick up and take anyone anywhere they ask if needed, and usually will educate their passengers along the way regarding university or football history.

Enter, William Barstow. A retired UGA professor of plant biology and an emeritus athletic board member, Barstow said he actually did not attend Georgia’s game against Notre Dame. But he heard so much from so many of his friends and acquaintances about the tremendous game-day experience that they had in South Bend and about those green-jacketed individuals in particular, that he decided to investigate.

Barstow soon realized that UGA did not have a similar group of people on campus helping out game-day visitors. Georgia does, of course, contract with CSC (Contemporary Services Corporation) to help usher people to their seats and provide other forms of security and crowd control around the stadium on game days. But the Bulldogs don’t have a group of people dedicated to just help out, show people around and generally be nice.

So, Barstow has set out to rectify that. He is in the process of identifying “retired professionals” like himself who wouldn’t mind spending all weekend in Athens showing visitors around and generally assisting in helping them have a good experience when they come to Sanford Stadium and Athens for the first time.

“We’re trying to find some nice, gray-haired people who want to do some good things for the University,” Barstow told the board.

Gray hair need not be present, or any hair at all, Barstow allowed later.

For recruits, Barstow is starting with a group of which he is a member, OLLI. It’s an acronym for Osher Lifelong Learning Institute of UGA (which started in 1994 as Learning In Retirement, or LIR). Basically, it’s a 1,300-member club for people who are 50-and-over and/or retired who take classes and attend social functions at UGA. But depending on the response he gets, Barstow is willing to put people to work from anywhere.

Barstow wants to have individuals stationed at key points around the stadium and on campus and also in the lobbies of area hotels. It has been suggested that they wear some sort of “distinctive outfits.” Obviously red sports jackets and black ties have been suggested. But it can be pretty doggone hot in Athens in September.

“We may have to have a summer and fall outfit,” Barstow quipped. “Maybe we can get Nike to put a swoosh on them and pay for it.”

Regardless, the plan is to have a team together for this fall’s football season. It’s very much a work in progress, Barstow said.

“I’m sure we’ll learn a lot in the first year,” Barstow said. “But the goal is to be better than Notre Dame by the time they come here in 2019.”

The Fighting Irish, who lost to Georgia 20-19 on Sept. 9, return the game at Sanford Stadium on Sept. 21 of 2019.

Barstow promises the Silver Dawgs will be kind whether or not the Bulldogs are victorious that day. You know, like Notre Dame was despite defeat.