Neal Mead is the man in charge on game days — but few of the fans who go to the Grove and the games would even recognize his name.
Game day set up for Mead, associate athletic director of event management, begins on the Wednesday before kickoff.
“Because of our 10-minute program, we have over 32 vendors and all of them are bringing in equipment and setting up the majority of the tents in the grove…So, we just want to make sure that they’re able to come in and set up, unimpeded from everything else that is happening on campus,” Mead said. “We give people that are here on campus, whether they’re students or staff and faculty, we give them time to hopefully get off campus before the madness starts.”
On game day, it is Mead’s department that runs the campus and makes sure that parking and the rest of the campus are safe and secure with their game day parking plan.
“This actually gives us more control to where we can enforce more parking, we’re able to tow if people are parked illegally,” Mead said.
This authority extends its control to around 5,000 parking spots. These parking spot tickets are first available to the highest-level donors, then to lower-level donors and if there are any left, they will go to the general public.
One of the most important things that give access to campus on game day is the shuttles. These are what allow people to have free parking and transportation to the Grove and stadium. Mead said the buses start at 6 a.m. and run until two hours after the game. Athletics has 22 buses running routes to both South Oxford Campus and Northwest Community College.
In addition, there are six O.U.T. buses that run from the Jackson Avenue Center to Paris-Yates Chapel. These are separate because the O.U.T bus system uses a federal grant and can only take predetermined routes.
However, Athletics has to pay for the other parts of the transportation system. This payment is actually agreed on between a company and the university before the season starts. The company is given a flat fee for all of the home games and then provides the transportation.
When asked about the logistics of transportation Mead said that the logistics were not that difficult to manage, as they have everything planned out, but there are still challenges.
“It becomes difficult, not necessarily for us to manage (the bus system logistics). But for us to manage people’s expectations,” Mead said. “But the thing that we actually try to stress to them is that we’re actually providing this as a service, and so we don’t charge for this. In the past we did. One of the things that we did a few years ago is we wanted to make it easier for people to be able to come into campus and experience game day.”
Athletics also has over 20 golf carts that help people get around on game days. Many of these are used to assist people that would be unable to get to the grove or stadium by themselves.
“If they have additional needs, have some mobility issues, need some assistance, we do offer an on-campus golf cart shuttle system,” Mead said. “They have a set route that they follow. However, if someone does have a specific issue, there is a help number that they can call to actually get a cart to come to that parking lot and actually pick them up from that lot.”
Mead also mentioned that Athletics has wheelchairs in the stadium, so people that have mobility issues are able to have access to the stadium.
There are still things Mead wants to improve. The first one is the labeling of the parking lots. Athletics, the University Police Department and the Department of Parking and Transportation all have completely different labeling systems. This makes it difficult to coordinate action on game day. Mead hopes to unify the labeling so that it will make work between the departments easier.
Mead said one of the other challenges is making the Grove Americans with Disabilities Act compliant. This is particularly challenging because the Grove is not something that was built or designed.
“The Grove is a space that was just created over the years,” Mead said. “It’s just it’s no different if you went to a park…It’s going to be tough trying to wheel across open terrain.”
Mead said that they hope to set up stations where people can be picked up and dropped off at the Grove. This can still be difficult because the Grove has few easy landmarks.
“None of the tents are numbered. If you’re not at a cross-section, it is really hard to tell people where your tent is, so that in itself creates challenges as well,” Mead said.
Making sure there is access provided to everybody who comes to campus on game day is one of the many challenges that the Athletics Department faces. Managing game day is a big challenge that requires ensuring the safety of everyone on campus.
“We can have 60,000 people in the stadium and another 10 or 15,000 people that don’t even leave the Grove, and we’re responsible for those people,” Mead said.