Every home game, the University of Georgia hedges a bet that enough students will attend the game, but not so many to cause overcrowding or denied entrance.
But what are the ramifications of approaching capacity if every cog in the wheel does not run smoothly?
Before the Georgia vs. Clemson game, students poured in from gates 1, 3 and 4A, flooding the narrow hallways just outside student section seating.
Victoria Arnold, a UGA senior, was redirected to upper level seating that was so crowded she started feeling faint.
“To be honest the number one thought going through my head was ‘Please God don’t let me faint and go over the railings,’” Arnold said. “But the other thing I kept thinking was how in the world is the fire marshal OK with this. If someone had had a real medical emergency up in the stands, no one would’ve been able to get to them.”
This feeling of frustration was amplified when her friend and fellow senior, Jacob Mapel, sent her pictures of whole rows of lower level seating in section 113 that were still vacant.
On Aug. 27, The UGA Athletic Association sent an email stating that the student gates will open at 4:00 p.m., and if capacity is reached, access will be denied into Sanford Stadium despite having the ticket privilege inscribed onto one’s student ID.
“Looking back at it, I feel like it was shouting fire in a crowded theatre,” UGA Law student Sarah Darden said.
However, Tim Cearley, University Associate Athletic Director of ticket operations, says that even highly-anticipated home games do not typically garner enough student attendance for capacity to be met. This year, the ticker office sold 18,800 full home season tickets awarded, and there are only 16,000 student section seats available.
“Looking at a five year segment, only on a couple occasions have we come close,” Cearley said, mentioning last year’s South Carolina game admitted roughly 15,800 students.
Yet students report instances of too many people corralled into narrow hallways upon entrance, medical attention unable to reach dehydrated people and too few ticket employees managing the masses of students jockeying for position on Saturday.
With general admission tickets loaded onto the IDs of students who received and purchased a full home season package, student section seating typically operates on a first-come, first-serve basis. However, many students think that the current admissions process actually acts against this concept.
UGA senior Christie Summerlin, who entered from gate 4A by Reed Hall, saw three employees allocated to place wristbands on crowds of people. She mentions that since so many students were worried by the email, and wanting the experience for which they paid, a bigger crowd formed than was manageable.
“Everyone was so packed up waiting to get into the game,” Summerlin said. “If it opened earlier, you could avoid that. I think the fact that there were only three people handing out wristbands for thousands of students, that’s pretty dumb.”
But one UGA administrator, Event Manger Matt Brachowski, pointed out that the university has tried opening the gates two hours before games in previous years, with the same pileups occurring closer to kickoff.
“If they’re waiting to get in, there’s never going to be a trickle in,” he said.
For some, this experience was their first inside Sanford stadium.
Although a shock to the system, Georgia Southern transfer Wesley Sapp says despite it taking an hour to just get inside the stadium, he will still attend other games with the hopes they will prove less hectic.
“I would do it again just based on that that was an unusual crowd level for that time,” Sapp said.
Questions continue to circulate among students as to if any organizational changes will be made to game days.
“As long as the football team is doing well, there will be enough students willing to compromise and UGA won’t really be forced to address this problem,” said Stephanie Bacastow, a junior who spent much of Saturday’s game stuck in a traffic jam in the upper deck sections.
However, the Student Government Association has received feedback from students on these issues, and met with Matt Winston, assistant to president Jere Morehead, according to SGA Vice President Jim Thompson.
“I think people were concerned with the stadium management as far as getting students into the sections, saying students were trampling each other, and being pushed back and forth, so that’s something that could be improved for future game experiences,” Thompson said.
UGA Police Chief Jimmy Williamson, who circulates throughout the stadium during home games, explains that many crowded hallway situations stem from students competing for wristbands in sections 109-111, popular lower-level seating close to the Redcoat marching band.
“No matter what process we choose, whether general admission or assigned seating, I don’t know if we could meet all expectations,” Williamson said. “But we do want the game experience to be an enjoyable one for students.”