Tech-UGA game might move to Dome in 2011

ATLANTA — Officials at Georgia Tech and Georgia confirmed Wednesday that the two schools have entered into preliminary talks about playing their annual football rivalry game inside the Georgia Dome to start the 2011 season.

Yes, to start.

Traditionally, the game has been held as the final game of the season for the two rivals.

In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, Georgia Tech athletics director Dan Radakovich said his school has begun talking with officials at Georgia, as well as members of the Atlanta Sports Council — the group that puts on the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic.

A game sponsored by the Georgia-based restaurant chain that bears its name, the Classic has featured teams from the ACC and SEC since its inception last year. In that time, neither program from Georgia has appeared in the game, which is televised nationally on ESPN.

“There have been some preliminary talks about the possibility of playing a ‘neutral site’ game at the Dome between the two schools to kick off the 2011 season,” Radakovich said. “This scenario would simply provide a one-year interruption in our regular home and home pattern. In other words, the 2010 game would be played in Athens as scheduled, the 2011 game would be played at the Georgia Dome, then, the 2012 game would remain a home game at Bobby Dodd Stadium to resume the normal home and home rotation.

“We are far from having any type of an agreement on this model, but for us it is an intriguing discussion from a long-term schedule standpoint. ... We appreciate the interest being shown by Gary Stokan and the Atlanta Sports Council. Rest assured that wherever these discussions take us, we will make a decision that is in the best interest of Georgia Tech.”

His statement came on the heels of comments Wednesday morning from Georgia athletics director Damon Evans, who told the Athens Banner-Herald that playing the game earlier is “something we have to think about.”

He went on to add that he had not committed fully to the idea of the game and that “it’s too early to tell” if it will even be played to begin the 2011 season.

Both responses were prompted by a Tuesday night broadcast report by an Atlanta sports television station.

During ABC affiliate WSB-TV’s (Channel 2) 6 p.m. newscast, sports reporter Chuck Dowdle reportedly said he had heard from multiple sources that the programs were trying to play one another in the Kickoff game.

If the game were to move, it would be played Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011. Georgia currently has a home opponent slotted for that date — Louisville. The Yellow Jackets, meanwhile, have not yet confirmed an opponent for that day.

The most obvious positive of playing such a game would be that both teams could stand to benefit from attracting in-state recruits. For the past two seasons, the programs and their coaches have had to sit idly by while the likes of Alabama, Clemson and Virginia Tech have played in the Kickoff.

Next year, LSU and North Carolina are set to join them.

In June, at the Peach State Media Days in Macon, Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson voiced his disproval that neither Georgia program had been previously affiliated with the game.

“It helps the teams that are playing — no question. No use dancing around it. It helps them; doesn’t do anything for us or Georgia,” Johnson said. “And when you bring teams in your own conference in to showcase now in a kickoff game, it’s got to help them recruit.”

Radakovich said that Georgia Tech stands to profit from a potential move for the 2011 season, because the change will allow his program to get on a favorable scheduling cycle. In the long run, the Kickoff should help add dollars to the school’s coffers.

“Currently, and into the foreseeable future, our football schedule features home games with Georgia, Clemson and Virginia Tech — arguably our three most attractive opponents — all in the same season on alternate years,” Radakovich said. “By getting our home game with Georgia on an opposite-year cycle, it becomes much more fan-friendly and would provide us better financial consistency.”

Some fans from both schools have been angered by the potential move, citing a break in tradition as a glaring disadvantage to the game being played.

The rivalry has never been played at a neutral site and has only been played six times prior to the month of November: between 1897-1903.