Updated: Tailgating expected for Georgia football fans this fall

January 1, 2018 Pasadena, California - Georgia fans tailgate outside the Rose Bowl Stadium before the College Football Playoff Semifinal between Georgia and Oklahoma on Monday, January 1, 2018. Hyosub Shin / hshin@ajc.com
January 1, 2018 Pasadena, California - Georgia fans tailgate outside the Rose Bowl Stadium before the College Football Playoff Semifinal between Georgia and Oklahoma on Monday, January 1, 2018. Hyosub Shin / hshin@ajc.com

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

ATHENS -- It looks like Georgia fans are going to get to tailgate before home football games after all.

Pending final approval, the Bulldogs are discussing options that allow limited tailgating on the UGA campus this fall, people familiar the situation told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the capacity of Sanford Stadium is being reduced for social-distancing purposes to 20 to 25% – or no more than about 23,000 spectators. That means reserved campus parking near the stadium should be available to most ticket-holders.

Spectators still will have to qualify for a pass based on their donor status to be admitted to the designated parking areas this fall, Georgia Athletic Director Greg McGarity said Friday morning. Once parked, though, the thought is that spectators should be able to tailgate in those designated areas before proceeding to the stadium.

However, there would have to be limitations. Chiefly, social-distancing guidelines regarding crowd sizes must be observed at the respective tailgates, and there will be time limits. UGA’s parking lots, which open at 7 a.m. on normal gameday Saturdays, wouldn’t be opened until the hours right before kickoff.

The final game-day plan, which is being developed by the university, has yet to be presented to UGA President Jere Morehead for approval.

Meanwhile, the Georgia Athletic Association board of directors is conducting its fall semester meeting via digital conference call Friday afternoon. At that time, the board is expected to get a ticket and tailgating update from McGarity and his deputy AD Josh Brooks.

Tailgating is not something the board will vote on, McGarity said. The final decision will be made by Morehead on “advisement from campus leaders.”

“We’re still in the discussion stage,” McGarity said. “There’s nothing finalized yet. We’ve still got three-plus weeks.”

If the Bulldogs do allow tailgating, they will be one of the few schools in the SEC to do so. So far, only Texas A&M has approved tailgating on campus this fall.

Officially, South Carolina’s policy is “to be determined,” but published reports say tailgating is “being discouraged." Tennessee is expected to have some “limited” tailgating options (probably not a whole lot they can do about the “Vol Navy” folks that gather in large boats on the Tennessee River). Vanderbilt is still considered “TBD” and Missouri as of Thursday is reported as “not likely.”

Otherwise, the other SEC schools, including Alabama, Auburn, Florida, LSU and Ole Miss, are forbidding tailgating on campus this year.

The SEC, which has dictated a lot of policy for playing football this fall, left tailgating up to the individual institutions.

“We have not banned tailgating,” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said last month. "Our effort now has been to actually look at our campus policies, so that’s where I spent time this weekend and ask our campus personnel, what are your policies allow? I think our state and local policies will be in play there.

As a state, Georgia under Gov. Brian Kemp has been considered relatively open to other states when it comes to public health and safety policies. UGA students resumed fall instruction Aug. 20 and many of the classrooms are meeting in person, with masks required, however.

In the meantime, Sanford Stadium is almost ready for football. UGA officials have set up the chairbacks throughout the stadium that will determine where spectators can sit in groups of four and two. The SkySuites high above the south stands also will be open and limited to 50% seating in each suite, which averages 12 to 16 seats.

Georgia doesn’t host its first home game for another month, when Auburn visits Oct. 3. That game is slated for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.

The No. 4-ranked Bulldogs open the season Sept. 26 against Arkansas in Fayetteville, Ark. There will be no tailgating there.