The damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic needs no cataloging. But it can now at least be given credit for the revival of a crosstown basketball series.
Georgia Tech and Georgia State will play a three-game series in men’s basketball that is scheduled to begin this season, both schools announced Wednesday. Tech coach Josh Pastner told the AJC that the series is a consequence of the increased fiscal challenges expected from the pandemic.
Previously, Pastner was opposed to playing the Panthers, seeing it as a no-win predicament.
“But because of COVID-19, I think things changed, and what changed was based on scheduling philosophies, both on travel and financial and everything in between,” Pastner said. “So this made a lot of sense for Georgia Tech, and I’m sure it makes a lot of sense for Georgia State.”
Georgia State coach Rob Lanier shared the sentiment.
“It’s exciting; we appreciate the opportunity,” he said. “Both teams were in need of regional games. It made sense for each of us.”
Tech is scheduled to host the first game Dec. 16 and is scheduled to host again at a date to be determined in 2021-22. Georgia State will host the third and final game in the 2022-23 season. The university’s convocation center, which will feature a basketball arena, could be open by then. Pastner said that the plan is for Tech to be the Panthers’ opponent in the season opener. No cash will be exchanged in the series.
For Tech’s athletic department, COVID-19 was expected to create a shortfall of $3.9 million in the present fiscal year. It is an example of the fiscal stress that is expected only to heighten across college athletics in the academic year with the possibility of football games – the industry’s cash cow – being reduced, played in front of no fans or canceled altogether.
The effects already have been seen as multiple schools have dropped teams as cost-saving measures. Scheduling an attractive opponent that can be reached by bus (or by MARTA, if athletic directors Charlie Cobb and Todd Stansbury want to be especially budget conscious) and without need of a hotel stay is a big plus.
Tech and Georgia State have not met in the regular season since December 2008. The teams did meet in an exhibition game before the 2017-18 season. Lanier said that the schools had talked generally about playing for several months, but that talks quickened in recent weeks with Pastner’s impetus.
“I’ve been on both sides of this,” said Lanier, who was hired at Georgia State after serving as assistant coach at Tennessee. “When you are a Power 5 school trying to piece your schedule together, there’s always desire for the mid-major to do something like this. Credit goes to Josh Pastner and Georgia Tech that they’ve allowed this to work.”
For Tech, this may only be the first product of its adjusted scheduling philosophy. Pastner said that he would be open to similar agreements with in-state Division I opponents Kennesaw State, Georgia Southern or Mercer.
“I wouldn’t have played a home-and-home with a non-Power 5 (opponent) prior to COVID-19, but with COVID-19, things have changed,” he said. “You’ve got to adapt and be nimble and have flexibility, and that’s what the deal is. This is a new time period.”
He tossed out another possibility – playing a home-and-home against Georgia. The archrivals used to play twice a season, but switched to a single game in 1982. It may not happen, Pastner said, but he called it a reflection of the new reality.
“You get a high-major opponent at your home, and it’s a bus trip,” he said.
Tech was 17-14 overall, 11-9 in the ACC last season. Georgia State was 19-13, 12-8 in the Sun Belt. The Panthers have played in the NCAA tournament three times in the past five years. Tech hasn’t played in the NCAA tournament since 2010.