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Post Damon Evans after five years as AD

Wednesday July 1, 2009

On the fifth anniversary of Damon Evans’ first day as Georgia’s athletic director, how things have gone depends on the metrics you choose.

Business can hardly be better. The core “product” of football is second only to Texas in the amount of revenue it generates. The overall athletics program, under Evans’ stewardship, remains one of the few nationwide that are firmly in the black. Additional revenue from SEC television contracts and a new marketing and broadcasting contract with ISP Sports will only strengthen that revenue stream.

Facilities have taken a step forward. There’s been impressive investment in the basketball programs and gymnastics. The football program is about to get a big boost from an expanded Butts-Mehre facility.

Academics are another strong point. The APR is solid across the board, and policies have been put in place that all but drag a kid out of bed to go to class. The Rankin Smith Center is a tremendous resource for student-athletes, and the academic support structure is comprehensive.

So from the point of view of a business, things are great. Meanwhile, fans are most concerned with what’s happening on the field. Business is athletics, and teams are judged not by revenue or graduation rates but by wins and titles.

Since the “Titletown” year of 1999 that brought the program four team national championships and and Georgia’s highest-ever Sears Cup finish, the program has finished out of the Top 10 four times. Two of those instances have come in the past three years.

Georgia’s Sears Cup / NACDA Learfield Sports Cup position

1999: 2nd
2000: 12th
2001: 3rd
2002: 8th
2003: 15th
2004: 5th
(Evans took over on July 1, 2004)
2005: 7th
2006: 9th
2007: 12th
2008: 10th
2009: 18th

Georgia’s spring sports were its strongest this year. Baseball, softball, tennis (M+W), golf (M+W), and track (M) contributed more to Georgia’s point total than fall and winter sports combined. Yes, football counts. No, equestrian does not.

Is it a slide? It looks that way. Is it a collapse? Not at all. If the program continues to slide out of the top 20 next year, there might be a trend worth talking about.

Does the Director’s Cup standing really matter? When Georgia does well, it’s a nice point of pride on a summer’s day. As far as many fans are concerned, the strength of the football team is a proxy for the state of the athletic department, and that area is doing just fine. That’s not to belittle the other sports; it’s just that it’s hard to indict the golf team for not winning the national title or men’s tennis for not three-peating. These are the kinds of sports on which we usually depend for the higher Director’s Cup finishes, and a year in which the Lady Dogs only make the field of 64 instead of reaching the Sweet 16 isn’t the end of the world.

As Evans begins his sixth year on the job, he’s to be commended for having a program that’s strong and successful by every administrative standard. But with much of the focus on “budget” and “brand” these days, the lowest finish in the Director’s Cup in over 10 years is a reminder that athletics is still the point of the athletic department.

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