ATLANTA – Georgia athletics director Damon Evans returned to his Atlanta hotel room at 4:15 a.m. Saturday after meeting with SEC officials about the fate of the conference’s tournament.
“We were just trying to make the best of a worst-case situation,” Evans said.
Evans was satisfied with the result of that meeting, which left his Bulldogs playing Kentucky at 12 p.m. in Georgia Tech’s Alexander Memorial Coliseum, he said. Strong winds and heavy rain and hail damaged the tournament’s original site, the Georgia Dome, late Friday night, forcing Georgia’s game and the remainder of the tournament to be moved to Georgia Tech’s campus.
“Everything was discussed but at the end of the day everybody came to the conclusion that the best thing was to continue this tournament to determine a tournament champion and give everybody the opportunity to get in the NCAA Tournament.
NCAA officials told the SEC it must complete its tournament by end of Sunday evening’s NCAA Tournament selection show in order to maintain the conference’s automatic berth, said SEC associate commissioner Mark Womack, the highest-ranking conference official at the tournament.
Maintaining that automatic berth was critical to Georgia, Evans said, because it was the only chance the Bulldogs had of qualifying for the NCAA Tournament.
Georgia Dome officials told the SEC they were uncomfortable hosting Saturday games at their damaged facility if any other options could be found because Saturday’s forecast called for the potential of more heavy rains and high winds downtown.
“Everybody was trying to do the best they could to be reasonable and try to reach a conclusion in a very difficult situation,” Womack said.
One of the toughest parts of the meeting was the decision to keep most fans out of the game, Evans said. The logistics of re-ticketing the more than 20,000 fans who held tickets to the game in the Georgia Dome and paring that down to the fewer than 10,000 that will fit in Tech’s gym was too difficult in the time frame, he said. Safety also was a concern, he said.
“I’m sure there are some disappointed fans out there,” he said. “They should be, but I hope everyone understands the circumstances surrounding this.”
The SEC is considering refunding fans who had tickets for Friday’s game, Evans said. He and Georgia’s athletic administrators got two-and-a-half hours of sleep Saturday morning, whichwas better than conference officials, who worked through the night with no sleep, Womack said.
“They’re doing a great job,” he said.
STILL BIG BLUE: Each school participating Saturday was given 400 tickets to pass out to families of players and coaches and its program’s VIPs, but Kentucky clearly found more somewhere.
The Wildcats had about 500 supporters, giving them a significant vocal advantage over the 100 or so Georgia was able to get to the game.
“There was supposed to be a limit,” Evans said. “I’m not going to get into that right now. It is what it is. I’m trying to take the high road. You knew they were going to show up,” Evans said. “I’m sure everyone tried to do what was appropriate.”
Tennessee and Arkansas also brought more than 400 fans to the game, which only served to make the Georgia contingent of 150 or so all the more noticeable.
WHAT ECHO?: Even with the big Kentucky contingent, the crowd for Georgia’s first game was only 1,458. The Mississippi State-Alabama semifinal played Friday night in the Georgia Dome drew 20,125.
Saturday’s attendance left almost 8,000 seats empty in the 9,100-seat Alexander Memorial Coliseum. Each team was allowed to bring its cheerleaders, dance team and pep band, which helped fill some of the void, but it still was an unusual site to see so many empty seats.
“It was different,” said Georgia’s Zac Swansey, who compared it to a bad high school crowd.