ATLANTA – College Football Playoff officials can’t say if President Donald Trump will attend Monday night’s national championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but they are preparing as if he will.
Trump is expected to attend the game between Alabama and Georgia according to multiple published reports, but there was no official announcement as of Saturday afternoon.
“The definite part will have to come from the White House,” said Bill Hancock, executive director of the CFP, “but we are planning with their staff as if he is coming. The word’s out.”
CFP staff – as well as officials from the Atlanta Falcons, Mercedes-Benz Stadium and area law enforcement – are involved in planning logistics for a presidential visit.
Earlier this week, the College Football Playoff issued an advisory for fans to “beat the traffic and head to the downtown Championship Campus early on Monday,” although the release did not mention a presidential visit.
Hancock underscored the suggestion that fans arrive early for the contest, which is scheduled to kick off at 7:17 p.m. CT.
“It will take longer for fans to get in,” he said, “so we’re telling people here come early. We’re going to open the gates earlier than we planned.”
Hancock said attendees need to try to depart for the stadium early and also expect a longer process getting into the building due to heightened security.
“There’s two parts of early: one part is streets being closed from traffic and then the other part is going in the building early because it’s going to take a while to get inside,” he said.
Hancock was in Atlanta last fall when Trump visited.
“They shut down the freeway from (Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport) to downtown,” he said. “It’s just protocol. That’s the way they do it.”
Championship game officials welcome the visit, but acknowledge that a visit would result in difficulties for fans.
“We’re happy to have the president of the United States at our game. It creates an inconvenience,” Hancock said.
Alabama players expressed some excitement about playing in front of a presidential audience.
“I didn’t hear about that. He’s coming?” UA defensive lineman Da’Ron Payne said Saturday. “That’s cool to have him in the building.”
Said defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick: “It’s pretty cool that he’s interested in the game. He’s going to bring a lot of security, but I think it’s pretty cool that the president is going to come.”
Payne said he’s never played live in front of a sitting president.
“Obama probably watched it on TV or something like that, but not like just (the president) sitting there (in the stadium,” he said.
Reach Tommy Deas at email@example.com or at 205-722-0224.