The historic announcement that the Georgia Southern baseball team has been awarded their first NCAA Regional is more than big news for the baseball team, but for the entire University as well as the city of Statesboro.
The city of Statesboro will reap the benefits of hotels, food and tourism that comes with the likes of programs like Notre Dame and Texas Tech coming to town. What the University gains by hosting a Regional is far greater than just a monetary number.
“Their will definitely be an economic impact on the community in Bulloch County,” said Georgia Southern athletics director Jared Benko. “This will also give us an opportunity to put Georgia Southern on full display to the country this weekend. We will be able to get free advertising this weekend on ESPN. We will have people coming to our campus for the first time and we feel getting them here is huge.”
Financially the Eagles may get a bump this weekend but Benko stresses the impact is more long term and keeping the program moving forward.
“From a financial standpoint a large majority of the money goes back to the NCAA when you net out revenue and expenses,’’ said Benko. “The NCAA allows a host school to retain up to 15 percent honorarium of net revenue and expenses. Through the bid process you have to guarantee a certain amount. You don’t host for an economic boom for your school, you do it to give your team and fans and donors the benefit of playing at home first and foremost. You also do it exposure and to create special memories for all involved.”
It’s been a very successful spring for Eagle athletics. The women’s golf team won their first Sun Belt championship and earned their first NCAA Regional bid. The men’s golf team made it out of the Regionals and advanced to the NCAA Championship, and now the baseball team is hosting their first NCAA Regional. Benko was actually on the golf course in Scottsdale Arizona when he got the news about the baseball team.
“I was on the golf course with the team trying my best to keep up with both,” said Benko. “We weren’t really sure if the loss in the championship would keep us from hosting so I was trying to keep up with the possible announcement. The announcement was supposed to happen at 8:30 Eastern time and when I didn’t hear anything I figured we missed out. The golf team was actually coming off the course on the 18th hole and I got a call that we were hosting, and to be honest it was really cool. It was a very special day.”
As far as the bid process goes Benko says the Eagles earned the big based on their merits and what they did on the field, rather than attendance figures or putting in a big financial bid.
“I applaud the committee for picking the 16 best teams,” said Benko. “That is how it should be. As far as who we have coming in here Notre Dame has a tremendous national brand. I’m very familiar with Texas Tech and they do a great job traveling. UNC Greensboro is a fairly short drive away and fans are familiar with Georgia Southern having been in the Southern Conference. I fully expect J.I. Clements to be packed.”
The possibility of bringing in additional seating was explored but the height of the outfield wall made that difficult. Benko says there will be other ways to get additional fans into the park though.
“The wall is eight feet tall in the outfield and many of the bleachers we would be able to get would only be 10 feet tall,” said Benko. “Our best bet is going to be standing room only. Of course, we won’t go above what the fire Marshall deems is maximum capacity. We are also looking at projects in the future such as outfield decking but for now there just aren’t any great solutions to accommodate much more attendance.”
Benko came to Georgia Southern wanting to change the culture. Hosting a Regional is a step in the right direction, but Benko isn’t satisfied with just that.
“Being able to host a Regional is representative of the special team we have this year,’ said Benko. “They earned the right to host. It is also something our athletic department is striving for and that is to run our department like a Power-5 conference. My hope is that this isn’t the last time we host. I hope we have chances to bid on and host many NCAA Regionals in other sports as well.”