Are Neutral Site Games Going Away? Not So Fast, Says One Prominent Figure

In this day and age of College Football, we’re starting to see a trend towards scheduling more home-and-home series between prominent conferences. But as this trend continues to pickup, the neutral site games are still holding their weight when it comes to putting on the best matchups for public consumption.

On Saturday, we will see Georgia make the short drive to Atlanta and take on the Oregon Ducks in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff, which has become the prominent season opener around the country. Sometimes the games end up panning out and we get a fantastic outing, while other games have come up short. But, don’t look past the great matchups we’ve seen along the way, even as AD’s across the country look to schedule more home-and-home matchups.

Courtesy of Chic-Fit-A Peach Bowl

Speaking with Peach Bowl President & CEO Gary Stokan, these matchups still carry weight and when Kirby Smart got the Georgia job, he was all-in for playing in Atlanta.

“Kirby, when he got the job at Georgia said ‘Gary I’ll play in as many kickoff games as you’ll have us. We scheduled them in 2020, 2022 and 2024. We lost the 2020 game to Covid, 2022 is against Oregon and 2024 they’re coming back to play Clemson, with will obviously be two top-5 teams in 2024. 

“At Oregon, I went out and met with Mario Cristobal in 2018 at Pac-12 media days,” Stokan added. I said to Mario ‘Hey I got an opening against Georgia in 2022, how would you like to come play them?’ He said ‘I love Kirby and would love to compete against Kirby and we’re recruiting well and by 2022 we’ll be able to compete in a game like that’, so he agreed. He then winds up going to Miami and Dan Lanning gets the job at Oregon and his first game will be against his friend Kirby Smart.”

Even though these games can come together years in advance, Gary Stokan is receiving calls from schools looking to participate in these games for a number of reasons. Fans don’t particularly care to sit through a game and watch their favorite team destroy an FCS opponent, it’s not worth the travel costs and price to attend, which has steered many to stay home and watch on television.

It should be noted that the CFP semifinals will be played in Atlanta this year as well.

This is why Gary Stokan continues to believe that having a game like this in Atlanta is worth it to many schools looking for the spotlight and money.

“Number one, Atlanta is a big recruiting base for these schools that come in, even Oregon has players from Georgia. Number two, financially we’ll pay a team more than they will net at a home game, so the AD wins. The fans win because we give enough tickets and even if they don’t come to the game, they get a chance to watch on television a great matchup rather than going to a game against an FCS or nondescript school. 

“People just weren’t going to those games anymore, because they were on television,” Stokan added. “So the fans win, the AD’s win, the coach wins and the players win.”

But as we sit back and watch schools like Florida, Utah, Alabama, Texas and others agree to home-and-home deals, Stokan believes that the shift, which he is for, is coming from the current CFP contract.

“I do believe the AD’s saw the CFP being expanded before the contract ended and they start getting out and saying ‘Hey, we can schedule these home-and-home because if we lose a non-conference game and we lose one game in our conference, with two losses we can still get into the playoffs with twelve teams’. 

“I think they (AD’s) started scheduling those home-and-home games because people weren’t going to those nondescript FCS type of first game,” Stokan continued. “They were losing attendance, season ticket revenue. So to keep the ticket revenue, they scheduled big time home-and-home games.”

Courtesy of Chic-Fit-A Peach Bowl

The money will continue being a contributing factor in having these game, like the two we will see in Atlanta over the weekend, which includes Georgia Tech vs. Clemson on Monday. But, being able to put on a massive show in front of a huge television audience is still the main aspect of these non-conference matchups taking place. Sure, we’d love to see more home-and-home games in the future, like we’re getting this season with Ohio State vs. Notre Dame or Alabama vs. Texas. But there’s still a need for games in Atlanta to start the season and administrations around the country are still finding it to be a valuable asset in terms of their programs.

If we can continue to find some middle ground in scheduling, everyone will win, including the fans. Though it will be mostly a pro-Georgia crowd on Saturday afternoon, you’ll still see a good amount of Oregon fans heading into SEC country, which is another trip to knockoff the bucket list.

There are plenty of storylines for Saturday, and even though Dan Lanning wasn’t the Oregon coach who agreed to this matchup, a showdown with his friend and former boss Kirby Smart will make for entertaining television. Also, Bo Nix will get one final chance at knocking off Georgia, since he was 0-3 against the Bulldogs while playing for Auburn.

These are the type of games that make it hard to turn the channel, which is what every neutral site venue hopes for as they put these games together.

Written by Trey Wallace

Wallace started covering the SEC in 2012, as the conference landscape was beginning to change. Prior to his time in Knoxville, Wallace worked in Nashville for The Read Optional, where he first produced content that garnered national attention. His passion for sports is evident in his work and has led him to break some of college football’s biggest stories. His social media reach and natural podcast proficiency continue to make Wallace one of SEC’s most trusted sources.

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  1. Atlanta is hardly a “neutral site” for UGA … or for Alabama. … or Clemson. MB Stadium is a Big Time venue and Atlanta is an easy access site … as is Jerry World in Dallas. …. or NOLA.
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    For a far away opponent like Oregon or USC or any B1G team Atlanta is a hostile environment where 90% of the stands will be against them. …. As for us TV fans … we don’t care where the site is … its a football field with two marquee teams.

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