Georgia Southern Director of Athletics Jared Benko has had to become quite adaptable to changes but is optimistic this year won’t have the same kind of hurdles he had to overcome in his first year.
Speaking with the media at an informal press conference Monday afternoon Benko commented on a wide range of topics including the possibility of having to implement COVID-19 guidelines once again.
“Right now, we aren’t going to have any limitations as far as seating at Paulson Stadium,” said Benko. “We are preparing ourselves in case things change, but for right now we want to make sure when people show up at Paulson, they are able to have a great experience and a safe experience too.”
Benko said all student athletes are being given a COVID test to when they come back on campus. Those who are vaccinated will not have to go through the weekly surveillance testing unless they have symptoms.
“If you aren’t vaccinated you will have to go through weekly testing and contact tracing as well” said Benko. “We are trying to do the best we can in order to continue to educate our student athletes. It is an individual decision but personally I share with them why I got vaccinated and why I feel that is important.”
Benko went on to say they are bringing in guest speakers to help better inform the student athletes including this week having Dr. Emilio Carranco from the Sun Belt Conference come in for a discussion.
As for this year’s football season Benko said the tailgating areas will have no restrictions and he is hopeful to have a typical fall with large crowds and a great atmosphere at Paulson.
“Football is such a social sport, and that is why tailgating is so popular,” said Benko. “I want to see Paulson full, and a full tailgating experience as well. We were hopeful to put in some new innovations to help the tailgating experience last year, but with the limitations that was tough to do.”
“We want to make sure when our fans spend their hard-earned money, they are getting a good return on their investment from the time they pull into the parking lot until the time they leave,” said Benko. “You will see me and our staff out there in the parking lot talking to fans and being present at the venue.”
Benko also added there will be some new additions around the tailgating area this year aimed more for at families.
“We have some corporate engagements with Terry Harvin and Georgia Southern Sports Properties we are introducing this year that are going to be family friendly and kid friendly,” said Benko. “Paulson Stadium and the surrounding area will be a place for everyone to come six times a year and have a great time.”
One thing that may help with Eagle fan’s experience at Paulson Stadium would be a winning football team. The Eagles are coming off a 7-5 season which Benko and head coach Chad Lunsford have both acknowledged is below Eagles standards. This year the Eagles have been picked preseason to finish fourth in their division, but Benko is optimistic about the season.
“I feel like coach Lunsford continues to do a great job and has some new coaches coming in this year that I’m really excited about,” said Benko. “If you come out to practice you will see a renewed energy. We both agree 7-5 is not the standard here. He has been open about that and I have too. I am optimistic about the additions we made to the coaching staff and the players we brought in and feel we have all the ingredients here for a special season.”
Benko also gave an update on the continued progress with the convocation center as well as the indoor practice facility.
“We have had a lot of momentum on that project over the past seven months,” said Benko. “We are waiting on a lead gift and that will really be the crescendo in getting this project started. We have an architect and will have a contractor in place next month. As far as the convocation center April 1 is the construction date and we are in the schematic phase right now and we are making great progress.”
Benko said the convocation center will house the men’s and women’s basketball teams and seating will be approximately five thousand. Seating can be expanded to around six thousand for graduation in the current schematic design. Benko said the plan is for the Eagle volleyball team to remain at Hanner Fieldhouse after the convocation center is built.