This looks great on paper. The Georgia Institute of Technology will have its football team play one home game over each of the next five years at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, a place often described as “high-tech.” (In this case, shouldn’t it be, “Hi, Tech”? Your groans are noted.) Recruits should love this. Alums, always a crochety bunch when their routines get uprooted, shouldn’t hate it. Where’s the downside?
Well, the first three designated MBS opponents – Notre Dame in November 2020 and October 2024, Clemson on Labor Day 2022. What do we know about those schools? First, that they’ve lately played better football than Georgia Tech. (Both just made the College Football Playoff. Tech was last seen losing to 6-6 Minnesota.) Second, that they have way more fans than Georgia Tech.
It wasn’t so long ago that George O’Leary told Tech leadership – the Hill, as it’s known on the Flats – that he needed an expanded Bobby Dodd Stadium, which had just contracted, to recruit at the needed level. This sounded fine, until the expanded stadium opened and that new upper deck underwent biannual occupation by a set of fans wearing orange and another set wearing red, neither of which looks good on a Yellow Jacket.
BDS at HGF quickly became known as the place that could pack its pews only when Clemson or Georgia rolled into town. The nadir – for coach Chan Gailey, who would be fired within the month, but not just for Gailey – came on Nov. 1, 2007. It was a Thursday night with ESPN in the house. The opponent was No. 13 Virginia Tech. The halftime entertainment was provided by Big Boi. Georgia Tech had spared no expense in promoting the game locally, but the effect was yet another unfilled stadium on a night when its team lost 27-3 and its coach, at least for the moment, was booed when he appeared on the matrix board offering a fourth-quarter PSA.
We’ve seen enough of Geoff Collins to know that he’s not Gailey, who defied promotion, or Paul Johnson, who didn’t much care how many people showed up so long as he got to run his offense. Collins had barely set foot on the Flats before he was talking up the Tech Brand. There’s a buzz, lousy pun intended, about Tech football we haven’t heard since Johnson won the ACC in 2009. The spread-based option, which was easier to admire than to love, is gone with its architect. Collins, born in Decatur and bred in Conyers, wants to take back Atlanta, which once upon a time absolutely was a Tech town.
At issue is whether, at a time when Georgia figures to be playing for more national championships soon, Tech can rise above its niche status in this crowded sports market. You’ve got the Bulldogs and the Braves and the Falcons, and now there’s Atlanta United. (The Hawks are themselves occupants of a narrowing niche, although Trae Young might be changing that.) Why was Johnson’s valedictory game played in Detroit against the middling Gophers? Because, in the realm of college football, Tech fans are considered non-travelers.
As intriguing as the thought of five games under the petaled roof is, there’s also the question of what happens under that pricey roof. Will the home team be outnumbered by Notre Dame’s Subway Alums and Clemson’s IPTAY legions? (Possibly if not probably.) Mightn’t that be a tad embarrassing? (Why, yes.) The same thing happens annually at BDS when Clemson/Georgia visits, but moving selected games to Arthur Blank’s pleasure palace ratchets up the visibility.
Collins has a season to begin changing the dynamics of Tech football before these five-games-in-five-years commence. (Though next season begins on a Thursday night in the home of the reigning national champ. Good luck with that.) If he coaches as well as he brands, the Jackets will be on to something, and the lure of MBS should help in that branding. That’s unless the games themselves become a series of shout-downs and beatdowns, which would pretty much defeat the purpose.
(Here we note that the MBS games will be part of Tech’s season-ticket package, which could limit access to
Fighting Irish/Tigers fans, though that hasn’t seemed to matter at Bobby Dodd Stadium. We also note that Tech will not be playing Georgia in MBS, which seems only prudent.)
There’s a potential reward in what Tech is trying, but no reward comes without risk. Credit the Institute for having the guts to try something. Keep your fingers crossed that this bold venture doesn’t go the way of that forlorn Thursday night in 2007.
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