You’ve got to hand it to Gary Stokan. It takes some incredible sales and persuasion skills to get Georgia fans and administrators to even consider giving up a home game to play a regular season neutral site game 90 minutes down the road in Atlanta.
I can understand why schools like Alabama and Virginia Tech might like to play in Atlanta. It’s a beachhead into some very good recruiting turf. It’s also the only neutral site game of the season for those schools, so the impact to the home schedule is more acceptable.
But Georgia? Why would a program give up a game at one of college football’s top 10 venues in order to play just down the road at a smaller stadium with a lesser game day experience? Why would we entertain the thought of playing a game against a quality opponent in our own backyard while limiting the number of fans and season ticket holders who would be able to attend and diluting our home advantage? Why would we tell the Athens economy – heavily dependent on the University and Georgia football – to stuff it while serving to line the pockets of the Atlanta Sports Council and their Atlanta partners?
Recruiting? It’s not as if prospects from the state of Georgia are unaware of the University of Georgia. Clearly any opponent would have more to gain on the recruiting front. Again, it’s an issue of surrendering a big home field advantage. At Sanford Stadium, Georgia could actually host recruits for such a big game and use the occasion as an opportunity to sell the overall program and campus. That’s not possible at the Dome where recruits would have to watch from the stands or at home.
I also think the exposure angle is overblown. Instead of getting to show off Sanford Stadium and Athens rocking for a big game, we’d be showcasing the Georgia Dome and Atlanta. The same television coverage of a game at the Dome would be there for a quality game in Athens.
This isn’t a strength-of-schedule question. Is it implied that Georgia couldn’t otherwise attract a big opponent to play in Athens? I don’t buy it. If we can find a big opponent, why wouldn’t we want every possible advantage to actually win the game while showing off one of college football’s greatest settings? Yes, a return trip would be in order. That’s how these things work, and, besides – aren’t high-profile road games supposed to be good things for us these days? Playing a tough opener is fine…just do it in Athens. If we’re going to play in the Dome, let it be in December.
I don’t blame Stokan. He’s looking out for his city and the people who pay him. I’m just surprised that Georgia fans and especially those in charge of the program would be so willing to line up to be used.