Countdown to national championship: Excuse me? No tailgating?



They tailgate at Georgia.

They tailgate all over the SEC.

In fact, they take tailgates to new heights in the SEC.

ExploreMore AJC coverage of the Bulldogs

Look at any campus on a Saturday in the fall. Be in place for the Dawg Walk at Georgia. Find your way to the RV City in Jacksonville before the annual Georgia-Florida game. Gather at the Grove at Ole Miss. Smell the Cajun food at LSU. Be a part of the Vol Navy at Tennessee. Get on a caboose at South Carolina.

In other words, don’t mess with the tailgate in the SEC.

There is one problem for those planning to party outside SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif., as Georgia faces TCU in the College Football Playoff Championship game Monday. One big problem.

According to the official website for the College Football Playoff (get ready now, take a deep breath): “Tailgating will not be allowed in any SoFi Stadium parking lot.”

They are, in fact, messing with tradition.

Under the section explaining there are a limited number of digital parking passes for $75 for automobiles and $200 for buses to park at SoFi Stadium is the harsh statement. Parking lots open at 10 a.m. (PT) for the 4:30 p.m. (PT) kickoff, but don’t think you will spend those 6 ½ hours cooking, eating, drinking and playing cornhole (or perhaps beer pong).

Making matters worse, is that SoFi Stadium is located in the Los Angeles suburb of Inglewood. It is three miles of the Los Angeles airport and not near a major business and entertainment district.

Call it tailgategate.

A statement to the AJC, Bill Hancock, Executive Director of the College Football Playoff, said: “Fans are welcome to bring their coolers and enjoy themselves in their parking spaces at SoFi Stadium on Monday night for the College Football Playoff National Championship.  In addition, we are hosting the Allstate Championship Tailgate from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the SoFi Stadium parking lot.  This is a free event that is open to all ticket holders.  Bands from both schools will perform, as well as Kelsea Ballerini and Tiera Kennedy.  We encourage everyone to come out early to enjoy all the activities, but for us to operate the parking operations efficiently on game day, we are not able to allow fans to set up tents and grills in the drive aisles or adjacent parking spaces because we have limited on-site parking at SoFi Stadium and want to ensure everyone has a safe and timely arrival for the game.”

The policy is having such an impact several time zones from where the championship game will be played that Gov. Brian Kemp weighed in and vowed for a change when the national title game is played in Atlanta in 2025.

Mark Konter, a homebuilder from Savannah and Georgia season ticket holder, first heard about the policy on Wednesday. The news came from friend and fellow UGA alum who lives in Los Angeles. The group of about 30 who will attend the game immediately sprang into action to make alternate plans.

“It wasn’t like there were three or four of us,” said Konter, who was also in Indianapolis last year for Georgia’s national championship. “Knowing we had a good-sized group, we had to come up wth another plan and come up with one as quickly as possible. It’s a big game.”

Konter and his group found a local bar near SoFi Stadium where they have reserved a room for their pre-game celebration. Much of the same group also attended the Rose Bowl in 2018 when Georgia played Oklahoma. That game, in Pasadena, just a few miles outside L.A., allowed tailgating in parking lots.

“We had to drop back and punt to use a bad football analogy,” Konter said. “We had to scramble. We didn’t want to get out there and be out of luck.”

Tailgates are routinely held at SoFi Stadium for NFL games as the home of the Rams and Chargers.

We can’t say if the policy will be strictly enforced. However, if you pull up and don’t smell burning charcoal, you will have your answer.