Fan talk: Empty student seats, ‘Battle Hymn’ soloists, backup QBs and more!

Not enough of these guys are showing up at Sanford Stadium. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

Not enough of these guys are showing up at Sanford Stadium. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

The Red and Black reported this week that the athletic board, school officials and student representatives have been discussing the increasing problem of empty seats in the student section at Sanford Stadium during even big games.

The student section never reached capacity last season, the R&B report noted, with more than half the 18,000 student seats going unused at one game. But while it shouldn’t be that surprising to have 10,000 students deciding to ditch the Coastal Carolina game, it’s shocking to read that there were 3,000 empty student seats for Auburn.

Wells Ellenberg, the student representative on the athletic board, put it bluntly: “Students, for whatever reason, don’t feel the need to go to the football game. We lack the appropriate culture here for an SEC football school.”

While some older fans are quick to conclude that all those scholars with the high SAT scores drawn to UGA by HOPE just aren’t interested in football, I think that’s probably a minor factor in the decline of student attendance. I’ve known of plenty of top students who were ardent football fans; I don’t think it’s really a “culture” thing at all.

There have always been students who bought tickets to the games and then decided not to attend, especially the lesser games. But in the past they could easily give or sell those tickets to friends or even nonstudents (often recent UGA grads), and so someone still wound up sitting in the seat.

In fact, one of the chief complaints about the old way student ticketing was handled was that freshmen got left out because upperclassmen with no interest in going to the games ordered tickets anyway and and then just sold them off.

But the main problem was the athletic association got greedy. They were so upset by the idea that students might sell their discounted game tickets (and possibly even pocket a little profit that didn’t go into the coffers at Butts-Mehre) that they changed the distribution system a couple of years ago to eliminate hard tickets in favor of electronic “tickets” applied directly to today’s interactive student ID cards.

The end result? Empty seats. They tried fixing the problem by allowing students to donate their unused tickets to a particular UGA student or put them back into a pool to be resold by the athletic association and even added penalties for those who bought a ticket and didn’t use it or donate it.

And yet they still ended up with 3,000 empty seats for the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry, which looks pretty embarrassing on TV.

OK, I recognize that students get their tickets cheaper than the public and the athletic association missed out on a few dollars when so-called “student” seats were filled by nonstudents. But so what? It’s not like UGA’s athletic program is hard up for money. And which hurts more, students scalping tickets or empty seats showing up on national television?

Frankly, I think a return to paper tickets for students, even though they might get scalped, sounds like the lesser of two evils.

Plus, until student demand once again exceeds the supply, they ought to reduce the number of seats allotted for students. Then the athletic association can sell those extra seats to season ticket holders or the general public at full price, which ought to alleviate just a bit of the sting of those ill-gained proceeds going into the pockets of student scalpers!

Now, let’s check out some of this week’s Junkyard Mail. …

Jeff Sutton writes: Hi Bill, I was wondering if you knew why UGA has stopped the trumpet solos that begin the playing of “Glory, Glory” at basketball games? The solos were played at the first few games of the season, but stopped somewhere around midseason. Will they also be banned at football games this fall? I really miss them and the tradition. Thanks for all the info and insight you provide. Keep up the great work!

Thanks, Jeff. I certainly hope there’s no consideration being given to beginning a football game at Sanford without the Redcoat Band trumpet soloist in the corner of the upper deck kicking off the “Battle Hymn of the Bulldog Nation.” That’s become a really beloved tradition among fans. As for the absence of the soloist at Stegeman Coliseum recently, I put your question to UGA sports information chief Claude Felton, who responded: “I think you could say we are simply experimenting with some new initiatives inside our pre-game and trying some new combinations. The trumpet solos have not been totally eliminated and good chance you’ll see them again.”

Interim mascot Russ may serve for another game or two. (Johnny Crawford / AJC)

Interim mascot Russ may serve for another game or two. (Johnny Crawford / AJC)

Michael Parsa writes: Uga IX. Any news? Haven’t heard a thing at all.

Sonny Seiler, owner of the Uga line, said back in December that a new mascot likely will be selected sometime this summer. The Savannah Morning News reported that interim mascot Russ has produced several possible heirs and that Charles Seiler, Sonny’s son who deals with the mascots, will decide when Uga IX takes over from Russ. The paper said he was concerned about subjecting a puppy to the early September heat (although a subsequent schedule change means the second game no longer will be played in Columbia, S.C.), so Uga IX might not don the collar until the third game of the season against Florida Atlantic in Athens. Russ, of course, wasn’t considered for permanent mascot because he’s 8 years old and they don’t want to have to come up with another mascot in just three years, especially after the recent run of bad luck with them. And for those worried about “inbreeding,” the Seilers say that the pup that becomes Uga IX will have a mother who is not related to the Uga line.

Kobie from Savanah writes: Are we going to implement more screen passes into the offense, rather than have [Aaron] Murray sit back in the pocket and hope a receiver is open downfield before the pocket collapses? Also, why is Coach Richt so steadfast in not allowing our backup quarterbacks to get some meaningful snaps? Murray took a pounding some last year and that was with a more experienced offensive line than what we have now. [Christian] Lemay really could use the experience if we are going to redshirt [Hutson] Mason.

You’re preaching to the choir on both counts. I’d love to see Mike Bobo utilize screens and the short passing game a lot more than he did last season, especially on third down! Like I said recently, I’m also a proponent of giving your backup meaningful playing time, but the reality is that Murray is going to be behind center unless the game is out of reach or he’s hurt. And if it’s the latter, you’ve got to wonder whether Georgia would go with an unproven backup who hasn’t played in a couple of years. I think it’s more likely that the redshirt would come off and Mason will be first off the bench in the event of a Murray injury.

Steve Langston writes: Who is going to start on our O-line in the fall?

With Ben Jones, Cordy Glenn and Justin Anderson all gone, the offensive line will get a major shakeup this spring. It’s pretty much a mix and match situation, with any of the players likely to land at any spot on the OL. At least seven guys likely will get major playing time on the line. Center will be either Chris Burnette, who started at guard last season, or David Andrews. If Andrews is the center, Burnette will start as one of the guards. Kenarious Gates will be in the running for one of the tackle spots, as will incoming freshman John Theus. Dallas Lee is likely to get one of the starting guard spots, Junior college transfer Mark Beard could wind up as a guard or tackle, and also in the running are Austin Long, Watts Dantzler and Kolton Houston (assuming his NCAA problems are cleared up). Xzavier Ward, Zach Debell and Hunter Long might eventually contend for backup playing time.

Ryan Graham writes: Hey Bill, I’ve been reading your blog for a while now. I was born and raised in Athens and grew up a Bulldog. I attended Georgia State for college, though. Now that we have a football team, I am all for it. I was wondering what your thoughts on Georgia State moving to FBS from the point of view of a Bulldog. Do you think it will affect UGA negatively or positively? Personally, I think GT has more to fear than you guys, but I’m looking for your perspective.

Generally, you don’t welcome any additional FBS schools recruiting in your territory, but assuming State does make the jump to the higher level in a conference like the Sun Belt, I think you’re right that it’s more likely to impact the school on North Avenue than it will UGA. Kids capable of playing SEC ball aren’t likely to want to play for the Panthers. You didn’t ask, but if you’re wondering whether I think UGA is likely to add GSU to one of the nonconference spots on its home schedule, I’d say not for a while. And, frankly, I would prefer that UGA wait until Bill “Bring the Cheaters to Their Knees” Curry is gone before rewarding the Atlanta program with one of those big pay days.

Tyler Standfield writes: What’s our projected starters looking like for CB, how is our depth? Also, which freshmen do you think will have the biggest impact next season (Marshall, Theus, Harvey-Clemons, or Gurley)?

Sanders Commings and Branden Smith are the likely starters at cornerback (once Commings finishes his two-game suspension), with Bacarri Rambo and Shawn Williams as the safeties. Damian Swann is most likely to fill in for Commings and probably will be the starting nickel back. Depth is a bit thin, but Marc Deas, Corey Moore, Quintavious Harrow and Devin Bowman could see playing time. So could incoming freshman Sheldon Dawson. And, of course, Malcolm Mitchell may wind up playing some cornerback, too. As for which true freshman is likely to have the biggest impact, my money’s on Keith Marshall at tailback. Even if he doesn’t wrest the starting spot away from Isaiah Crowell, he’ll still get plenty of reps.

Ronnie Weeks writes: Greetings from the frigid “Rust Belt,” where a displaced DAWG alum is looking forward to some warmer temperatures and some springtime gridiron action! My question has to do with the tailback rotation for the upcoming season. It seems to me like the tailback position has gone from a relative “famine” last season to a “feast” of tailback talent for this season. All accounts I have seen reflect a tremendous offseason for the embattled Isaiah Crowell who will be pushed by the true frosh sensations Keith Marshall and Todd (T.J.) Gurley. Boo Malcome also came on strong at the end of last season and provided some tough yardage between the tackles. Specifically, do you see either Marshall or Gurley getting redshirted next year, and will be there be enough carries for the likes of Carlton Thomas, Richard Samuel, and Brandon Harton? How do you think the coaching staff will use the tailbacks in 2012-13?

I expect we’ll see the usual tailback-by-committee that Mark Richt and Bobo have always tended to favor, with Crowell and Marshall eventually being the first two in the rotation. Samuel may begin the season ahead of Marshall but I think the freshman will supercede him eventually, though Samuel will still get a fair amount of time on the field, possibly at fullback. Gurley certainly will get a look in preseason, too, though I think he might be more likely to redshirt than Marshall. Carlton Thomas just keeps hanging around the program and probably will be used as a change-of-pace back. Malcome might get some relief work. I don’t see Harton getting much action unless there’s another rash of injuries.

Sam Kamar writes: The defense has improved a lot but don’t you think there is a lot of room to improve where depth and conditioning are concerned? Do you have any idea what is happening with the strength and conditioning coaching staff? I’ve read of several departures but not anything about new hires.

As we’ve already noted, depth may be a problem in the secondary. And Richt said recently that “finishing” games was a primary concern for the defense, so he’s thinking along the same lines you are. You can expect the conditioning staff to be filled out to the new NCAA maximum of five pretty soon with a couple of new hires. Athletic director Greg McGarity has said that one of the hires will be a speed specialist and among those in the running is Sherman Armstrong, who runs V.A.S.T. Training in Tampa.

Steve Yearta writes: [The] blowout in Lexington was painful to the point of embarrassment. I support Coach [Mark] Fox and the team but wonder if he’s on Greg McGarity’s “to do” list?

Not yet. I think Fox will be given a couple more years in which to attract the talent he needs to Athens. It’s been a disappointing season for the basketball Dogs, but a couple of big wins over ranked teams even with a depleted lineup showed what Fox is capable of accomplishing.

Happy birthday, No. 34!

Happy birthday, No. 34!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, HERSCHEL!

Let’s close off by wishing Herschel Walker a happy 50th birthday. And in honor of that occasion, if you haven’t yet seen the ESPN Films “Herschel” documentary, you can order it on a DVD that also has bonus features like extra interviews, deleted scenes and 1981 Sugar Bowl highlights. It’s available here and here.

Got something on your mind concerning UGA athletics or a question for the Junkyard Blawg? Send it to junkyardblawg@gmail.com.

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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg

304 comments Add your comment

Bama Bar and Grill

March 7th, 2012
2:54 pm

Fact is AA is becoming greedy of the student tix situation. Which is the lesser of two evils? Fill the stadiums, or fill their pockets? Greed typically prevails.

G-Dawg

March 7th, 2012
2:57 pm

I agree…Seilers should be out. No more UGAs coming from Savannah. They should reside in Athens.

MehtaDog

March 7th, 2012
6:44 pm

I haven’t been to a game in 2 years since they started those new parking and tailgating rules—I just watch games on my 65 inch plasma—-much better, with tons of cold beer, burgers and wings!!!!

LawDawg

March 9th, 2012
1:07 pm

You are dead right, Bill. The only reason is that seats are nontransferrable, but current students who only want to go to one or two games will still join the season ticket lottery because it is easier.

“While some older fans are quick to conclude that all those scholars with the high SAT scores drawn to UGA by HOPE just aren’t interested in football,”

This is complete and utter BS. I graduated in 2004, well after the effects of hope and, you know, being a better school had been felt, and we never had empty seats while I was in school. In the years after graduating, I went to most of the games still in the student section with tickets friends who were still in school would find for me. It was a great system for recent alumni who were still in hard partying days and still had friends in undergrad (since we could sit with them). It was also better for the families because they did not have my drunk, profane person in the presence of their children.

This strikes me as a win-win-win, so of course UGA changed it because they were not making sufficient money from this arrangement.