Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said Wednesday that he has talked to Bulldogs football coach Kirby Smart and UGA president Jere Morehead about how college and pro sports can come back this year in the state during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
In an appearance on the Paul Finebaum Show on the SEC Network, Kemp spoke about Georgia’s scheduled football season-opener against Virginia on Labor Day in Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“I believe it’s a little too early to tell whether we’re going to open on Labor Day with a packed house or a sparse crowd or no crowd at all,” Kemp said. “I know everybody wants to have a crowd there. I would urge people to continue to follow the guidance so we can drive these numbers down so that we can do that, but we stand ready to work with them.”
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Kemp said he’s also been in touch with the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta Braves and Augusta National Golf Club when it postponed the Masters until November.
UGA has worked on models for reduced crowds in Sanford Stadium to account for fans being able to socially distance, but has not revealed any plans yet.
The season opener is a Chick-fil-A Kickoff game neutral site matchup.
“As it relates to the upcoming Kickoff Games we will host over the first two weeks of the college football season, right now everything is still in place for the games to be played as scheduled, and that is everyone’s intent at this time,” Gary Stokan, Peach Bowl, Inc. CEO and president, said in a statement provided to the Athens Banner-Herald last Friday.
He added: “We are aware that various contingency plans for the college football season are being discussed, but no decisions have been made. We expect to learn much more about the virus and how to fight it in the coming months and will continue to monitor the situation closely. If in that time the conferences and universities discuss alternative plans for the start of the college football season, then we will work closely with our partner teams and conferences and address them at the appropriate time.”
The NCAA Division I Council Wedneday voted to allow football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball players to return to campus starting June 1 for voluntary workouts, according to Yahoo Sports. SEC presidents are expected to have a similar vote on Friday and then the University System of Georgia would need to give the go-ahead for the campus to open for such activities.
Morehead said earlier this month that based on conversations with the SEC that the school is operating under the expectation that the football season will be held under, “relatively normal,” conditions.
“It’s going to be a new norm on the practices when people do go back to our sports stadiums,” Kemp said. “But there’s also a lot of really smart people that are working on new technologies and new ways of doing business to protect people so we can do that. I’m reserving judgment now, but believe me I’m an optimist and I want to see that happen if it’s at all possible. We’ll try to be working with folks to do that if it makes sense from a public health standpoint.”
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