Sunday, March 26, 2023

‘Different Kinds of Challenges’: How Peach Bowl Planning Made Georgia Vs Cincinnati Possible

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The Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl – one of six New Years Six Bowls – centers on January 1 with a clash between Georgia and Cincinnati.

This is the second time an undefeated Group of 5 team has played in the bowl in seven years – and the Bearcats will look to maintain their unbeaten season against the State Bulldogs. It should be an exciting match that generates intrigue about the role of the G5 in the College football playoff structure.

Behind the scenes, however, there is a different kind of game day prep, which started with the disappointment created by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. Peach Bowl CEO Gary Stokan remembers the disappointment after the cancellation of all three Chick-fil-A Kickoff games – which were scheduled to be played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta from September 5-12.

A successful weekend that featured clashes between West Virginia and Florida (September 5), Georgia and Virginia (September 7) and North Carolina and Auburn (September 12) was shattered. The goal went from “best opening weekend” to “safest possible fishing bowl for Chick-fil-A”.

With this, Stokan likes to use one of his favorite phrases: “An attitude of gratitude”.

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“It was good in a way that we did a lot of homework and got a lot of best practices for the bowl game,” Stokan told Sporting News. “But it was very disappointing because we put so much work and effort into these six teams to get us to say we had to cancel the games.”

A total of 18 bowling games have been canceled this year; the final Texas Bowl game between Arkansas and the TCU. The Peach Bowl remains open for Friday and will serve as the background card for both of the college football playoff semifinals.

Stokan said weekly planning conversations with other New Year’s CEOs and the college football playoff committee made this possible. Stokan has also watched events with the Atlanta United in the MLS and the Atlanta Falcons in the NFL at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The stadium can accommodate 75,000 seats, but for the Peach Bowl it will have a capacity of 25% between 16,000 and 17,000 fans. Stokan reviewed the protocols, which include two and four seats.

Masks are mandatory – and will be available at the gates. Only essential personnel will be allowed in the field. No field presentations are permitted and there will be no groups, cheerleaders or mascots.

Of course, there are also detailed and strict COVID-19 testing protocols.

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“We are going to test all workers, all of our staff, all of the people arriving in the field, all of the ESPN employees and all of the officials,” he said. “It was a different kind of challenge than we’ve ever had.”

Stokan, a former North Carolina state assistant basketball coach, also created a depth chart for Peach Bowl staff and volunteers to shift responsibilities for COVID-19 coaches.

“You always have to have a next player mentality and prepare the second team guy if the first team player falls,” he said. “We had to create a succession plan for the next person on our staff and with our volunteers in case someone needed to be quarantined by day or by week. It’s unique. There is no doubt about it.

From this aspect, Stokan appreciates the timing of adjustments that the Power 5 conferences were able to negotiate during the season. The SEC only had two games canceled in its 2020 season.

“I really admire, it can’t be said enough, what the doctors, the coaches, the ADs, the staff, the players the coaches really did to have a game,” said Stokan. “It’s remarkable to me that we were able to have a college football season.”

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Stokan said the downside is not having the teams there for the entire week, and it’s not just for the Battle for Bowl week activities. Atlanta Minister CT Young, former Mayor Andrew Young, and members of the Ebenezer Baptist Church – which was the church of Martin Luther King, Jr. – typically speak to student-athletes during the week .

“Here this year, when it’s of the biggest question of interest, we can’t have that,” Stokan said. “It’s disappointing.”

Despite all this, Stokan maintains a positive attitude.

Stokan is also enjoying this year’s game and the implications of that game. The Group of 5 team have won the previous two matches. Houston defeated Florida State 38-24 in 2015 and UCF defeated Auburn 34-27 in 2018. Stokan expects the Bulldogs-Bearcats game to be just as entertaining.

“It’s college football, but at the end of the day both teams Florida State-Houston and Auburn-UCF were ready to play,” Stokan said. “I went to all the practices, and there wasn’t a team that didn’t want to be there. In any game, anything can happen.”


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