Kennesaw State and Jacksonville State will play each other in 2018, but the game won’t take place on the traditional gridiron. On Friday, Kennesaw State announced that its game against the Gamecocks next season will be played at SunTrust Park, the new home of the Atlanta Braves that opened in April of this year.
SunTrust Park seats 41,000 people, and it is located in Cobb County, which is northwest of downtown Atlanta, where the Braves’ old stadium, Turner Field, is located.
"We couldn't think of a better way to bring football to SunTrust Park than with Kennesaw State," said Braves president of development Mike Plant via the official release. "Vaughn Williams was integral in making this happen, and we're excited to host this game for Cobb County and Kennesaw State students, faculty and alumni."
Williams added that having the game in November when the Braves’ season will be over will make transitioning the field easier.
"We don’t have to make any modifications other than taking the pitcher's mound out and home plate out," he said via the Atlanta Business Chronicle. "November of 2018 is a lot easier to do that than during the season. Our vision for that day is not to just play a game. We're going to create a festive weekend, celebrate the two schools, give back to this community again and utilize our facility to really expand beyond the game and create a great opportunity for their fans, our fans and the people of Cobb County."
Kennesaw State, led by head coach Brian Bohannon, has only been around for two seasons in the FCS’ Big South conference. In 2015, the Owls went 6-5 in their inaugural season, and they went 8-3 last season and was just one win shy of a Big South Conference title. Jacksonville State, under John Grass, has gone 33-6 over the last three seasons and has successfully reached the FCS Playoffs each year.
College football being played in Major League Baseball stadiums is a more recent trend we’ve been seeing over the years. Three bowl games are played in them, including the Arizona’s Cactus, New York’s Pinstripe, and the St. Petersburg bowls. In 2010, Illinois and Northwestern played in Chicago’s Wrigley Field, the dimensions of which caused both teams to use just one end zone, which was a bit awkward.
Turner Field itself is also in the process of being converted into the new home of Georgia State football. As my colleague Alex Kirshner investigated last December, changing a baseball field into a football one takes time:
Converting Chase Field from baseball to football takes 10 days of 12-to-16-hour work from a team of laborers, Balich said. That’s compared to a three- or four-day process of converting the University of Phoenix Stadium, home of the NFL’s Cardinals, to host the Fiesta. The Pinstripe setup comes together gradually over two or three weeks.
The playing field is only part of the work.
If you’re putting a football field down, you’ll have to dig up a pitcher’s mound. The Cactus dumps 90,000 square feet of fresh sod atop the diamond, while the Pinstripe puts it over Yankee Stadium’s dirt infield and works with its supplier to make sure the new grass is consistent with the old. The St. Pete is played on artificial carpeting, so the equation’s different.
But as a resident of Atlanta myself and having reviewed SunTrust Park back in April, this should be a fun opportunity for both fan bases. The new stadium is quite nice, and the area right outside the stadium, called “The Battery’” has a wide variety of bars and restaurants that should add to the exciting atmosphere leading up to the game next November.