To Enclose Or Not To Enclose Sanford's West End Zone?

To Enclose Or Not To Enclose Sanford's West End Zone?

Athens

To Enclose Or Not To Enclose Sanford's West End Zone?



The University of Georgia’s Sanford Stadium is known across the nation as one of the most aesthetically pleasing venues in all of college football. Designed by the MIT-trained architect Thomas Atwood, the mind also responsible for designing North Carolina’s Keenan Stadium which possesses a similar feel, Sanford Stadium was built with its beautiful surrounding views in mind.

Since its first game in 1929, the on-campus stadium’s west end zone has remained open, providing fans inside the stadium with views of the scenic surrounding campus, and for fans outside the stadium, a glimpse into the action. Furthermore, the open west end zone adds a certain connection with the University that one can only understand and appreciate firsthand. Players and coaches come and go, but those whispering pines and majestic oaks beyond the end zone provide not only a magnificent setting, but a sense of longevity and stability that few venues can match.

Though the west end zone has been open for nearly a century, there has been chatter regarding the idea of enclosing it, surrendering scenic views in exchange for more seats and a better home field advantage. Change is hard, especially after nearly 100 years of excellence. But is this significant change to an iconic landmark something from which Georgia and the football program would benefit?

Currently, Sanford Stadium seats 92,746, making it the NCAA’s 10th largest stadium. Anyone who’s experienced a Saturday in Athens has witnessed the roars and home-field advantage the stadium can deliver. However, in the arms race that is college football venues, Georgia’s seating capacity is falling behind comparable SEC and powerhouse programs. Sanford Stadium ranks 5th in the SEC in capacity, as in recent years, Texas A&M, LSU and Alabama have each added significant seating capacity.

The University’s $63 million West End Zone project is currently underway, which includes the addition of a new video board (33% larger than the current screen), a pedestrian plaza and 120,000 square feet of new locker room space and above the locker room, a new recruiting lounge for visiting prospects. This proves Georgia’s administration is serious about keeping up and surpassing other program’s in terms of facilities and strength of venues – let’s not forget the new indoor practice facility as well.

If Georgia were to enclose the west end zone and install new bleachers, the stadium’s capacity would rise to nearly 105,000, making it a serious contender for the SEC’s most difficult place to play. Though Sanford Stadium currently possesses more seats than South Carolina’s Williams-Brice, Florida’s Ben Hill-Griffin or Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium, it won’t be long before these rival SEC programs begin expanding their seating capacities. In addition, key recruiting rivals Florida State and Clemson have recently spent hundreds of millions on facilities and stadium expansion will soon be addressed.

The addition of seats would also greatly enhance the home field advantage when an opposing team is making a push for the west end zone. Currently, the visitors’ section is in the corner of the northwest end zone, which is countered by the second, UGA student section directly next to them in the end zone. Building on top of the student section would provide deafening results, as seen in the east end zone.

However, is the expansion worth the investment? Is it worth saying goodbye to tradition, farewell to values, adieu to the connection with campus and its beautiful views? I’m not so sure it is.

Very few stadiums in the world have the symmetry Sanford Stadium offers, combined with the natural beauty and game day atmosphere. Being able to look out the west end zone and view the Tate Center, the bookstore, parts of north and west campus, and those north Georgia pines is priceless. Watching the sunset over the Baxter Street hill on a glorious fall Saturday is a sight that stays with you forever. And simply walking across the bridge from north to south campus between classes, peering at the lush lawn below, is awe inspiring.

Continue the North Stands’ 600 level to the east end zone. This should add 8,000 seats, provide additional revenue-enhancing club boxes and maintain the symmetry of the stadium and keep the unique postcard setting. Expansion and growth is necessary in today’s SEC. Keeping in mind that traditions and history are what help make the SEC the nation’s best conference is necessary as well.

Our final verdict: leave it open.

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