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What We Are Hearing: Sanford Stadium to be Full This Fall?

June 7, 2020

ATHENS - The old saying in politics is that if you want to know what someone believes don’t bother listening to them - look at their budget. 

And if you look at the budget UGA’s athletic department passed Friday (with the help of the school’s president) you are not only seeing football in the fall, but football at near capacity for the entire season. Before your eyes glaze over in boredom, understand that a budget is an important document that shows what organizations want and think their futures will be. 

They include some assumptions, but put in simple terms they are the basis for people getting paid, and what you intend to do.

UGA’s budget projects, as its leaders have been saying quietly (and not necessarily with full confidence), that football is going to be about as normal as possible in the fall.

“Right now, our plan is to move forward and start the season on time and to have a full season. I can’t predict events that would change that plan, but that’s the approach that the SEC is operating under," UGA President Jere Morehead told reporters Friday.

The question, however, is a simple one: is this budget aspirational or reality based? 

“Personally, I’m hoping that we don’t have to put any restrictions on at Sanford Stadium. But I have no idea what the public-health experts are going to be telling us at that point,” Morehead said. “If they say we have to have social distancing or you have to wear masks, then we’ll approach things as we’re advised to do so.”

The budget does not indicate UGA will have social distancing this fall. Georgia budgeted $33,474,468 in ticket sales for FY 2021. It budgeted $34,880,000 for the year we are completing. 

Do you think Sanford Stadium will be full this fall?

Essentially UGA’s budget is reflection that the fall of 2020 will look very similar to the fall of 2019 when it comes to ticket sales in Sanford Stadium. The difference in the two is about $1.5 million, and is described by UGA as “because of one (1) less non-conference home game (Notre Dame)/neutral site game in Atlanta (UVA)”. In other words, the drop in ticket revenue is a result of a game not being played in Athens - not because of social distancing. 

While it is true that budgets can be amended, AND that we can’t predict the future of a virus with confidence UGA’s FY 2021 budget is the biggest indicator so far that a “return to normal” in the future involves a Sanford Stadium that is full. 

“We'll know more at the end of this month,” UGA AD Greg McGarity said. “We'll know a lot more by August 1st. At some point in time we have to know and be very clear in communicating our plan. But that's not important today.”

McGarity said last week that if fans are not at games that they won’t be charged for the tickets. That might sound like common sense, but the budget, again, reflects a situation where the stadium is filled with paying ticket holders. 

As if there were any doubt, UGA’s budget also includes a bump up in “SEC Distribution”, which is television money. That means UGA expects there to be games played in order for that revenue to come in. TV money, budgeted at $45,500,000, is the single largest line item in the budget - income or expenses. 

Also included in the budget are $2.6 million in guarantees for football games. That further backs up (with the ticket sales) that UGA intends to play all 12 regular season football games this fall (ETSU ($550,000), Louisiana-Monroe ($1,750,000) and Georgia Tech ($300,000).

UGA’s $2.9 million recruiting budget did not change. 

On the recruiting front: 

On the recruiting trail, Dawg Post continues to hear good things between the Bulldogs and some of their top targets behind the scenes. Dawg Post believes UGA continues to be the team to beat for 5-star OL Amarius Mims‍, 5-star DB Tony Grimes‍ and 5-star LB Smael Mondon‍. Sources say Mondon could still make his decision later this month, but there has not been an exact date given just yet. Mims has plans to make his decision in October while Grimes plans to make his decision in early December.
Dawg Post confirmed that four-star offensive lineman Terrence Ferguson‍ and four-star tight end Brock Bowers‍ are both still enjoying the process and do not plan on making a public commitment anytime soon. If that does change and either want to make a commitment earlier than planned, then Dawg Post likes Georgia’s chances with both.
Eventually, things will start to pick up at wide receiver. Four-star Romello Brinson‍ of Northwestern (FL) plans to make his commitment on June 13th, with sources believing his decision will come down to Georgia, Texas A&M and Miami. While the Bulldogs are in that final group, Dawg Post expects him to commit elsewhere at this time. Sources say this is a recruitment that could go back and forth until Signing Day no matter who he commits to next week.  
Another wide receiver target, Athens Academy’s Deion Colzie‍, included the Bulldogs in his Top 10 this week. As he continues to narrow down his list, Dawg Post still feels good about Georgia’s chances to land the long, local wideout down the road.

Will Kirby Smart reel in the No. 1 recruiting class in 2021?

On campus, UGA is ramping up to get ready for classes in the fall. UGA is going through a “three-phase reopening” of its giant campus. That reopening is an effort the likes of which the school has never seen. An internal e-mail states that UGA will “issue two (2) reusable and washable cloth face coverings for each student, faculty, and staff member. These will be distributed to each individual before their return to campus and will include wearing and washing instructions.”

Cleaning at UGA will also involve “disposable mopheads and cleaning wipes to temporarily replace microfiber cloths and mopheads that require daily laundering.” UGA’s Facilities Management Division “will be dedicated to monitoring and refilling the standardized sanitizer stations, disposable sanitizing wipes, and restroom hand washing supplies.”

It is important to keep in mind all that will be swirling around and creating the atmosphere student-athletes will find themselves in as summer gives way to fall.

Meanwhile, UGA players have gathered in Athens to start voluntary workouts on Monday. UGA officials made clear the procedures that accompany football players returning to the institution - COVID-19 testing will take place. Workouts will take place with a limited number of players - not huge groups. Should a player (basketball can also return Monday) test positive for the virus the school will place the player in quarantine for a specified about of time. 

What’s important to remember in all of this is that the players don’t all live on campus. Folks have little doubt that with the procedures in place and with the guidance and oversight of Ron Courson, that workout facilities at UGA will be quite clean. But as Kirby Smart emphasized this more than a week ago, a return to summer workouts means a return to residences all across Athens. Naturally, players returning from all parts of the country could return with the virus. They could also pick it up after retuning to Athens and starting a new routine back in their college home. 

It was reported that Alabama had multiple players test positive for COVID-19. Fans should not expect to learn the names of players who test positive for the virus - at least not from UGA. It is going to be tough for reporters to nail that down because reporting on testing results of a player could involve HIPPA violations (not for the reporter, but on the person talking about it other than the infected player), and that’s a very touchy thing. 

Of course, there will be speculation as to if/why a player misses workouts. But at the end of the day, if a player has contracted or contracts COVID-19 he/she should be able to return from the isolation after the quarantine and continue working out (unless the medical situation gets serious). 

With that said, Georgia enters the summer with 89 players on the roster who entered the program with a scholarship. NCAA bylaws prohibit any institution from conducting fall football practices (which usually start around August 1st and have typically been referred to as “Fall Camp”) above 85 scholarship players. So expect some movement this summer. 

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