Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has given sports teams the ability to pack as many fans as they want into their stadiums under a clarification his office issued on Wednesday about the Phase 3 re-opening of the state.
What will that mean for the Florida-Georgia game on Nov. 7 at TIAA Bank Field?
At this point, no one knows.
Two of the state’s NFL teams aren’t taking any chances. The Jaguars and Miami Dolphins have already announced they will not increase capacity for their home games beyond the 25 percent level at which they operated to start the season — a bit less than 17,000 for the Jaguars and about 13,000 for the Dolphins.
The Tampa Bay Bucs have yet to weigh in.
But officials at the University of Florida and the University of Georgia are currently not saying whether they will seek more capacity for their 98th meeting overall and 88th in Jacksonville.
UF manages the game but the city owns the stadium. The city’s stance is that the schools have the decision, given the governor’s ruling.
Florida director of communications Skip Powers, who is also the university’s point man on the game against Georgia, issued a statement that said: “We will continue to follow the guidance provided by our experts at UF Health as well as campus officials.”
The statement doesn’t specifically address a neutral-site game in Jacksonville but Powers declined to elaborate.
A request for comment from Josh Brooks, the University of Georgia’s deputy athletic director for operations, was not immediately returned.
The Athens Banner-Herald reached out to UGA athletics director Greg McGarity, who said he doesn’t know if UGA will increase its fan allotment. He had no further comment.
If Florida and Georgia had to play at TIAA Bank Field at 25 percent capacity, each school would get around 8,500 tickets. Since the stadium was rebuilt in time for the Jaguars first season in 1995, capacity has been more than 80,000 (with additional bleachers added).
Last year, 84,789 watched Georgia beat Florida 24-17.
There isn’t enough time to install temporary bleachers (that project needs to begin six weeks out) so at most, the two schools could go as high as more than 67,000 fans, or about 33,500 tickets apiece.
However, the universities would have to decide about optics during a COVID-19 pandemic that is not over, without a vaccine in sight.
Georgia came under fire after last week’s home game against Auburn in which there appeared to be more than the 20,524 the school allowed in for the game, many of whom were not wearing masks or socially distancing.
Florida announced 15,120 for last week’s home opener against South Carolina.
Regardless of the decision on the number of fans to allow in the stadium, this year’s Florida-Georgia game will still be vastly different.
“We’re excited about it … glad to keep the tradition going this year,” said Daryl Joseph Jacksonville’s director of Parks, Recreation and Community Services. “It’s going to be about the football.”
But it will not be the World’s Largest Cocktail Party, at least in city-owned lots.
There will be no RV City and no Florida-Georgia Hall of Fame Luncheon. How much tailgating is allowed will be dependent on the eventual decision on stadium capacity but it’s certain that past police estimates of around 100,000 people in and around the stadium on game days will be vastly smaller.
But it can be a huge game. The Gators (2-0) are third-ranked entering a road game at Texas A&M on Saturday and the Bulldogs (2-0) are fourth-ranked, with No. 14 Tennessee coming to Athens.
Both teams have one huge obstacle if they want to play as undefeated teams for the first time in series history. UF plays host to defending national champions and No. 17 LSU next week and UGA plays at No. 2 Alabama.
Georgia has won the last three games against Florida, all under coach Kirby Smart.
Marc Weiszer at the Athens Banner-Herald contributed to this report.