Auburn Comes to UCI
By Braden Buckel
UC Irvine played host to the Auburn Tigers, the second ranked NCAA football team in the country and contenders for the BCS Championship for a series of private practices before the BCS Championship game.
The Auburn Tigers used Crawford field, the Anteater Stadium, Crawford Gym and the Santora Training Center for private practices before they played Florida State for the BCS Championship in Pasadena on Monday. The practices were from Thursday Jan. 2 to Sunday Jan. 5 and were closed to the public, fans and the media with a 15 minute exception on Friday where members of the media were allowed to see the players practice. Aside from that, the Auburn coaching staff made the practices off-limits as contractors who were hired for logistical support explained.
“When you practice for a national championship you want to make sure people aren’t just staring at your practice and going [to] Florida State and saying ‘oh they got a trick play,’ so you want to cover the gates, keep them secluded, keep everyone else back and out; none of the students [can come in] because we don’t know whose students and who’s Florida State fans,” Gregory Taylor, a 35-year-old an employee of Sitelines, said. Despite the tense atmosphere he says that the team appreciates their time in Irvine: “They love the weather here, for them it’s like 15 degrees at home.”
The contracting firm Sitelines, which is based out of Newport Beach was hired by the BCS to handle the logistics of the private practices for the BCS Championship Game for both teams.
“They hired us so that they don’t need to worry about any of the logistics and just focus on football. We do everything, we bought the seed for the fields, we brought the scissor lifts, the ice chests, everything,” Sitelines employee Rich Branch said. According to Branch his group has been preparing the fields since Dec. 26 to make sure everything ran smoothly when the team arrived for its first practice in Southern California on Thursday Jan 2.
Members of Auburn’s coaching staff and football team were unavailable for comment due to the nature of the arrangement to keep the practices closed to the public. They were likely fearful of people spying on the team to help Florida State by giving their coaching staff film of their practices, something that has happened before in the NFL. In 2007 New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick was fined by the NFL after it had been proven his staff had videotaped his opponents play signals and used that for his advantage.
Auburn’s coaching staff wanted to avoid any potential problems and so looked for a private venue which is why Branch says they chose UCI.
“They chose it for a couple of different reasons, one was the available security, two which was the option of two to three fields… and it was obviously located close to where their housing facilities was while they were here in Newport.”
As part of a request by the Auburn coaching staff the UC Irvine Police Department was on hand to make a barrier around Crawford fields and prevent unwanted people from entering the grounds. Although UCIPD officers were unable to comment, they acknowledged that they were ordered to keep the area closed to the public and had forced people away from the facilities, including some disappointed Auburn fans who came to watch their team before the BCS championship game on Monday.
In order to accommodate for the needs of the football team a large portion of Crawford field was fenced off to make it difficult for visitors to photograph the practice from beyond the police barrier, and a large tarp was put over the fence that surrounds the Anteater Stadium.
All the security measures meant there was little contact between the players and the contractors who set up the facilities according to Duane Solomon, who is employed by UC Irvine Athletics and worked during the Winter Break to make the Auburn practices possible.
“They kept their players away from us. The players went straight from the locker room to the fields and then the training room. They didn’t really have time to talk.”
Solomon and the other workers realized that Auburn’s team was not in Irvine to meet people but focused on the upcoming BCS game as he put it, “It’s just Auburn’s mentality. They weren’t here to socialize, they were here to work.”
Branch, who was Solomon’s supervisor appreciates everything that UCI staff has done to make the event a success. “The facilities have been fantastic and the support from the university has been top-notch,” he said.
Whether something similar will happen to UCI in the future has yet to be determined.