Dean Legge: So how did you manage to get Georgia in this game? They’ve only played in it once so far.
Gary Stoken: Putting these games together is like a rubics cube. You have to find out who wants to play who. In talking with Greg McGarity, he’s trying to focus on paying here every four years. I think Kirby, based on what he did at Alabama, really reinforced that. On the UNC side, they had two openings on their schedule. The two schools are continuous and both recruit in the other state. But it takes a lot of conversation and foresight.
Dean Legge: So I grew up in Atlanta, and when I was growing up the Peach Bowl wasn’t at all what it is today. How did you grow the game into the event that it is now?
Gary Stoken: When I came in 1998, the AJC said the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl is a third-tear bowl game. I personally took offense to that. I went to my board and said my job is to get us into the BCS. We had a chance to bid in 2006, whenever it was they went to two bowl games at one city. Instead of bringing a bowl in the other bowls decided they should rotate the national championship game and the regular bowl game.
That’s when we started the opening game. The NCAA had legislated the 12th game. I went to the board, and I wanted to start another bowl game. But allot of the ACC and SEC games had finals when we were going to do it.
So we decided to create a BCS bowl game at the front of the season. I was also taking with the College Football Hall of Fame and bringing that to Atlanta. We wanted to make Atlanta the home for college football. We wanted to start the kickoff game as a way to really have a bowl game at the beginning of the season.
Dean Legge: So it was a lot of those things, but I am sure other things fell into place like being able to move into the Dome…
Gary Stoken: There were some key factors that happened before I got here. The Georgia Dome put us in a situation where we could compete against the Florida bowl games. At the time we were pitching for teams to come here. Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium wasn’t ideal, I’m sure you know that having grown up in Atlanta. The weather wasn’t good, either. But (with the Dome) we could guarantee 72 degrees. Then the ACC vs. SEC was a major factor. Then ESPN coming on to do the TV. Then Chick-fil-A coming on as a sponsor, and George Crumbley was the founder of the bowl, and we wanted to drop the Peach from the Peach Bowl and make it the Chick-fil-A Bowl. That allowed more money and a better pick. We jumped the Gator Bowl in the ACC. We couldn’t jump in the SEC, but they were so good we always got a top 20 team.
We basically packaged it all up and regrew the game. I think the commissioners looked at us… we had brought the College Football Hall of Fame to Atlanta. We had elevated the old Peach Bowl. Starting the kickoff game. Thy said: “Hey, they are committed. They give back to the community. So they rewarded us by joining the College football playoff.”
The National Championship Game going through here this year, and being here next year, now we want to be the best you always want to get better or you die.
Dean Legge: What was the first thing you did with the Peach Bowl?
Gary Stoken: One of the first jobs I did was hanging sponsor signing at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, and my fingers were frozen. I still remember putting signage over Phil Nekro’s sign.
Dean Legge: There was a time when you were trying to get the Georgia-Florida game in Atlanta. What happened, and is there a future with that?
Gary Stoken: You really have to sit down with the AD and the coach to see what they want to do. To try and schedule six home game with the Florida game, and they also have Georgia Tech on their scheduled every year. UGA has eight SEC games - and one with Georgia Tech. If I’m the AD, I have to typically schedule six home games to make the budget. They have to look at the Tech game each year, and the Florida game.
Dean Legge: So why do we see more and more kickoff games now, and what make this one special?
Gary Stoken: My belief is that these games have grown because it is a win-win. They can go to the game, or see a great TV game. The players win because the players want to play the best competition on the biggest stage. The coaches win because we have the No. 2 recruiting area in the country. It allows the coaches to know what they have to get ready for the conference schedule. The AD wins, because at the end of the day, if he can schedule neutral-neutral he makes money. But the he goes home-and-home he makes money once, but not the next year. We are paying more than the typical home game. Then TV wins, too, because they have huge ratings. This has implications because the Playoff committee is using this as data point.
Look at this first weekend of college football. If you go back a few decades - you don’t see this sort of game. Now you have this in six or seven games. And we started that. It has changed college football forever.