UGA announces no tailgating, but allows for gatherings in lots

Georgia fans (from left) Carl Holley, Steve Hall and Fleming Hunt cook outside Mercedes-Benz Stadium ahead of the SEC Football Championship game between Georgia and Alabama Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018, in Atlanta. (Hyosub Shin/Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

ATHENS — Georgia announced it won’t allow tailgating before football games this season. However, the school will allow groups of ticket holders to “gather in parking lots” up to three hours before kickoff.

That’s the confusing outcome of UGA’s deliberations the last few days about tailgating. Last Thursday, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that tailgating would be allowed, according to individuals familiar with internal discussions. However, decision-makers met Friday morning and sentiments about the optics of that plan had changed, based largely on the fact that most SEC schools weren’t allowing it.

Georgia’s sports communication office sent out a news release Tuesday stating tailgating “will not be permitted.” Yet, that same release states that fans will “be allowed to gather near their vehicles with family members or those with whom they traveled and plan to sit with in the stadium.” It added that those people must maintain social distancing and wear masks around others who are not part of their group. UGA parking lots will be opening three hours before the designated kickoff time before each game.

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Ultimately, UGA’s decision was made by President Jere Morehead on advisement from athletics and campus health and safety officials.

The Oxford Language dictionary defines a tailgate as “a social gathering at which an informal meal is served from the back of a parked vehicle, typically in the parking lot of a sports stadium.”

UGA’s release did not include any expressed prohibitions of grills, food or drink, tents or chairs.

For context, Georgia Tech also announced Tuesday that is forbidding tailgating, but the school was specific about banning chairs, grills, coolers and said “no loitering or gatherings of any size would be permitted in any on-campus area.” Tech also is encouraging fans to promptly enter the stadium with inducements of open concession stands.

Athletic Director Greg McGarity said Georgia did not expressly forbid such things, but that time and location constraints should eliminate any notion of setting up an elaborate tailgate in the traditional sense.

“The three hours cuts down on the time it takes to set up and things of that nature,” McGarity said. “I think that will take care of any traditional tailgating. It’s not like you can take your stuff out to Myers Quad and set up. There’s not enough time to be lounging around before going to the game.”

McGarity added that UGA “will monitor it like we normally do. We’ll sort of make sure things don’t get out of hand."

Based on that convoluted pronouncement, UGA joins the majority of SEC schools who aren’t permitting tailgating on campus during this altered football season, including Alabama, Auburn, Arkansas, Florida, LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State. Texas A&M is open to tailgating and South Carolina is “discouraging” it. Some others have not made a final decision.

Officially, the SEC was leaving it up to the respective institutions during this altered football season. The league is playing 10 conference games, which won’t start until Sept. 26. Before the coronavirus pandemic, the season was slated to start on Sept. 5.