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Why Replacing the Georgia Dome with a Smaller Football Stadium is a Bad Idea

One of my favorite features of the new SB Nation Atlanta regional site is the so-called "Atlanta Starting Lineup," which daily calls our attention to five "must-reads" for the local sports fan. One of today’s links was to a recommended replacement facility for the Georgia Dome. The proposed revision to the home of the Atlanta Falcons includes the following:

An open-air National Football League Stadium with 65,000 seats. It should have 166 suites, and 12 000 club seats (in two clubs, upper and lower). . . .

[A]n open-air football stadium will be fundamental to the success of the franchise. We believe that Southern football is meant to be played outdoors. And the fans in the South-east are used to watching their games in large stadiums open to the crisp autumn air and under the blue sky.

Personally, I couldn’t care less about the Falcons; had it been left up to me, I’d have let the Smith family move the team, built the Dome as soon as the last U-Haul cleared the horizon, and petitioned the NFL for an expansion franchise so we could get shut of a sad-sack program that only just has started to show signs of life. However, the Falcons’ facility matters a great deal to me as an SEC fan, as the Atlanta football stadium will be home to the Chick-fil-A Bowl and the SEC Championship Game.

While I don’t believe an open-air arena is "fundamental to the success of the franchise" (as evidenced by all the years the Falcons spent sucking in Fulton County Stadium), neither do I agree with the opinion of Tony Barnhart, who wrote:

If Atlanta is dumb enough to be a part of building an open air stadium without a retractable roof, then the champagne corks will start popping in Birmingham. Because you can bet that they’ll figure out a way to build a ball park to get the SEC championship football game to come back (the first two games were played in Birmingham in 1992 and 1993). And you can bet that New Orleans would be putting together a bid and sprucing up the Superdome. A big part of what has made the SEC championship game one of the great success stories in sport is that weather is not a factor. Weather has been a factor for the Big 12 and the ACC and the results on those championship games has been mixed at best. The SEC, in my opinion, will not play this game in an open air stadium.

In reply to Barnhart, I offered the following retort:

I don't buy the argument about the weather. Except for the four seven nine years I spent being educated in Athens, I have lived in the metropolitan Atlanta area for all of my 41 years. It doesn't snow in Georgia in December, and it's not like we're in Seattle or Tampa as far as rainfall is concerned.

Yes, it gets plenty cold around here, but I've been to any number of games in Sanford Stadium when it was freezing (the 1992 Georgia Tech game and the 1995 and 1997 Auburn games spring immediately to mind), and we're dedicated enough football fans to brave the cold.

It's Atlanta in early December. We can tough it out. Barnhart's basic premise about how dumb it would be to dynamite the Dome may well be right, but weather is a factor in football---remember all those rainy Georgia-Florida and Texas-Texas A&M games, or, better yet, all those Nebraska-Oklahoma games played in the sleet and snow?---and the failure of the ACC championship game has nothing whatsoever to do with climatic conditions in the Sunshine State.

It's football. It's played in the cold and rain. Cope; it ain't major league baseball, for crying out loud.

What is telling, though, is the fact that it is being suggested seriously that the Dome be replaced by a facility with 65,000 seats. That is smaller than the Falcons’ current arena, which boasts a capacity of 71,250. The Georgia Dome already hosts fewer fans than all but four SEC stadiums, being dwarfed by the on-campus facilities of Tennessee, Georgia, LSU, Alabama, Florida, Auburn, South Carolina, and Arkansas, respectively.

Cutting the number of allotted seats at the Atlanta venue from 71,250 to 65,000 would slot the site of the SEC Championship Game behind Kentucky’s 67,606-seat Commonwealth Stadium in seating capacity. The number of fans who could attend the contest on the first weekend in December would only barely exceed the crowd of 62,657 who set the record attendance at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium last October. With all due respect to the Rebel faithful, the record attendance at an Ole Miss game shouldn’t be bumping up against the maximum attendance allowed at an SEC title tilt.

Nevermind the fact that the artist’s rendering of this proposed architectural marvel looks less like a football stadium than like the SHIELD Helicarrier; I don’t want to see the ‘Dawgs playing in a stadium even as dinky as the one Atlanta has now. What on earth would provoke a supporter of Southern football to think downsizing stadium capacity was a good idea?

An open-air arena in Atlanta is a perfectly reasonable notion. A smaller stadium in the City Too Busy to Hate is a stupid suggestion that will weaken the Peach State’s hold on the SEC Championship Game.

Go ‘Dawgs!