Ah, Athens in August.
With school not yet in session and no classes to schedule around, Mark Richt and his staff have been moving right along with preseason camp, including starting two-a-days. And that’s meant …. Isaiah McKenzie turning heads with his open-field moves … Richt providing a little Dawg porn when he has the team run quick three-on-three Oklahoma drills with the media (and their camera phones) watching while Todd Gurley goes airborne (in practice!) … the daily media injury watch to see who limped off the field, who’s in what color jersey, who didn’t dress out and whether Hutson Mason is throwing or not, with Richt making it more interesting by deciding to no longer provide an injury list … Jeremy Pruitt touting Damian Swann but still looking for the rest of his secondary.
And we haven’t even had the first scrimmage yet (that’s Saturday).
Oh, and for those of you who hyperventilate at the mention of “indoor practice facility,” we’ve had another incremental step on the road to Greg McGarity making your dreams come true.
Everything will be great once we get an indoor practice facility!
But what’s happening at the Woodruff Practice Fields, where we could see a glimpse of the activity as we rode by this week, isn’t the only sign of a new football season. UGA season tickets were mailed out Monday and are already arriving in Bulldog Club members’ mailboxes. (Away game and single home game tickets will be mailed separately, with an estimated ship date of Aug. 11, according to Debbie Daniel of the UGA ticket office. Due to delays out of Jacksonville, a separate and third mailing for Georgia-Florida tickets and parking will be mailed in September.)
Other signs of the season: The notice that it’s time for me to pay for my football season parking pass at an Athens church near campus came. And while campus was still a bit sleepy early this week, with the Tate Center populated mainly by tour groups of international students, apartments in Athens are already busy with student move-ins (including my daughter Olivia, who’s joining four other girls in a brand spanking new complex).
My daughter and I also made our annual visit to the UGA Bookstore to drop some major bucks. UGA athletes refer to the time each year when they get new Nike gear as “Red and Black Christmas,” and our August shopping spree provides the same sort of thrill for my daughter and me (although, as is the case with the real Christmas, Dad pays the bill for our treats, unlike with the athletes).
The bookstore has been rearranged a bit since last school year, with Bulldogs apparel and souvenirs and general merchandise now occupying the entire main floor (which has even gotten new carpeting), while school supplies and everything else are up on the second floor with textbooks.
And, yes, there’s a special Georgia-Clemson game T-shirt just waiting for you!
Meanwhile, as the countdown toward the season-opening showdown with the Tigers continues, there’s good news and bad news about what’s happening across Sanford Drive from the bookstore at the stadium for the 2014 season.
The most noticeable new wrinkle at Sanford Stadium probably will be the new sound system, installed to “improve sound quality in all areas of the stadium,” the athletic association says, as UGA follows up on the SEC rule change that now will permit the use of institutionally-controlled, computerized sound systems (including music), institutionally-controlled artificial noisemakers, and traditional institutional noisemakers pretty much all the time except from when the center is over the football until the play is whistled dead.
Although the athletic association says it will “always respect the collegiate atmosphere and traditions in our efforts to create a great Gameday for all in attendance,” I’ve heard from a number of Bulldogs fans who are concerned over not only the decibel level of the new sound system (which was deafening at times at G-Day) but also whether the blaring of canned music over the PA will marginalize the Redcoat Band’s traditional game day role. Let’s hope this doesn’t mean we hear less from the Redcoats (and that they continue to amplify the band, as was begun last season).
The best news about changes at Sanford, aimed at enticing more fans to come watch a game in person, is the installation of a Distributive Antenna System, which will improve fans’ ability to make phone calls, send text messages and connect to their provider’s 4G or LTE network — the lack of which previously been a particular sore point with the millennial portion of the fan base in recent seasons.
Another positive change is the upgrading to flat screen TVs at the concession stands to improve the viewing experience while waiting in line. Now, if they could just cut back on that wait somewhat!
Along those lines, perhaps the additional points of sale for bottle beverages at field level and at Sections 102, 133, 311 and 333 will help. Additional registers and credit/debit card terminals also have been installed throughout all levels of the stadium.
One thing you can count on, though, is that in announcing that concession prices will be rounded to .00 or .50 in an effort to speed up transactions and shrink time in line, those prices certainly won’t be going down.
As for the quality of the concessions, there’ll be more offerings sold out in the stands in certain sections, including name-brand subs, pizza, barbecue sandwiches and chicken sandwiches, plus hamburgers from Herschel’s Famous 34, Herschel Walker’s Athens eatery.
With the oppressive heat and humidity of Athens in late summer and early fall in mind (and kickoff times at the mercy of the TV honchos), misting tents/cooling stations will be available for fans at Gates 7, 10 and on Reed Plaza during the Clemson, Troy, Tennessee and Vandy games. But there’s no word on whether another water fountain (badly needed) is being added to the North stands. If not, I guess you have to either stand in line for bottled water or open your mouth in the misting tent when the line for the existing fountain grows ridiculously long!
One of the most surprising changes that quickly caught my family’s eye (since we sit in the top row of the lower level) is the removal of the partitions previously located at the top of each section in the 100 level to “allow for better sightlines and more light into the concourse area.”
OK, the concourses admittedly are kind of dark (or, looking at it another way early in the season, shady) but I have to wonder why, after several decades with the partitions in place to keep people from watching the game from the concourses, they now want to “improve the sightlines” for those folks, which will, of course, encourage people with crappy seats to watch from there rather than where their tickets are.
A likely result will be more congestion in those concourses, which are already way too narrow (since they date to a time when the stadium seated only 50,000). It seems like that ought to be against fire codes if it’s not already. You watch, first rainy game the concourses are going to be blocked.
Instead, they should have simply shortened the partition walls so more light got into the concourse, but not enough that people are enticed to stand there and watch an entire game — which is exactly what is going to happen, as ushers aren’t paid enough to pester people all game to move on.
Having folks standing back there also could lead to some conflict with some of the many fans on the last row, some of whom have grown used to standing on their seats during the years the partitions were up. Not to mention, the chance of fans congregating behind the wall spilling drinks onto the fans sitting below them. (At least in today’s “smoke-free” stadium, there won’t be smokers dropping ashes on them, like used to happen.)
It sounds like a move that was not well thought out.
Among the other changes at Sanford Stadium this season will be the renting of stadium seatbacks on a single-game basis for $8, subject to availability (new for this season is the MVP seatback available for all club-level seats), and the addition of another merchandise stand outside the stadium on the Sanford Drive bridge that will be open before and after games.
And, as usual, the athletic association plans various ceremonies and commemorations at games, including recognizing the 50th anniversary of Vince Dooley’s first team (1964) during the Tennessee game (with a halftime ceremony, a commemorative game ticket and a special 32-ounce souvenir cup available at concession stands); and country music singer Lee Greenwood performing at halftime with the Redcoats during Military Appreciation Day at the Charleston Southern game.
I don’t think that’s likely to make any of us older fans forget about the thrill of having James Brown dancing on the 50-yard line, but at least they’re making an attempt to provide a little added value in hopes of luring folks away from their big-screen TVs for a day Between the Hedges watching the Bulldogs devour a cupcake.
All in all, I’d say if you’re not already excited at this point about the arrival of a new football season — with a great home schedule this year as Clemson, Tennessee, Vandy, Auburn and Tech play in Athens — then, well, you’re reading the wrong blog.
I’ll be off the rest of this week, but if you’ve got something you want to discuss concerning UGA athletics or have a question for the Junkyard Blawg, go ahead and email firstname.lastname@example.org. Junkyard Mail will return next week.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg