Paul nails several key issues that the new athletic director will have to face over the next several years. I’m especially concerned about retaining Mark Fox. But as soon as he hits the ground – be it six months or a year from now, there are two things Evans’ replacement should see to. Yes, I’m not including anything about football here. Short of facilities needs, the football program just requires a laissez-faire approach. In addition to firming up the strengths of the athletic department, there is one sport that seems out of alignment with its recent history and potential. More on that in a second. The top priority is…
Continue to build on what Evans did well. Michael Adams said he was troubled most by the “loss of potential” upon Damon Evans’ arrest and resignation. It’s frustrating that a competent and respected administrator who had developed a good organization was done in by a personal flaw. Job #1 of Evans’ replacement will be to first do no harm in these areas which have become strengths of the Bulldog program:
- Sound financial management. Membership in the SEC puts you ahead of the game, but it’s easy to take that gravy train for granted and to forget the expense side. Georgia has maintained a healthy financial standing while continuing to invest in facilities improvements, and that shouldn’t change under new leadership.
- Academic emphasis. The Harrick scandal did a lot of damage to the academic reputation of Georgia student-athletes, and a lot has been done to repair that reputation. Georgia’s performance in the APR has been consistently near the top of the SEC. The Rankin Smith Center is an outstanding resource. Class attendance is enforced. None of that is unique to Georgia, but it’s still a culture that needs to be kept up and constantly resupported.
- NCAA compliance. As President Adams noted earlier, there wasn’t a hint of impropriety concerning compliance issues under Evans. Again, compliance is as much cultural as anything.
- Support for basketball. It might prove to be Damon Evans’ most positive legacy. The new practice facility, the ongoing Stegeman Coliseum renovation, and the hiring of Mark Fox have Georgia basketball fans daring to be optimistic about the future. Fox has already started to show results on the court and on the recruiting trail, and he won’t have his hands tied by longstanding concerns about facilities going forward. A new athletic director needs to continue to nurture this turnaround which is still at a very fragile state.
Repair the relationship with baseball. The future of David Perno is just one piece of the puzzle. If the relationship between the program and the athletic department hasn’t been adversarial, it’s still been troubling. The issue of the Nike bats imposed on the team was probably the most public example of the difficulties. Facilities also remain an issue: there are plans for a reconfiguration of Foley Field, now at 20+ years since its last renovation, and work is underway to replace bleachers with chairback seating. There is some sentiment that baseball now occupies the back seat once reserved for basketball. Whether progress requires a change in leadership of the program or just a better relationship between the program and the athletic department is up in the air. We’ve seen the potential of the program over the past decade, and work needs to be done to realize that potential on a much more consistent basis.
Maintaining the cash cow that is football revenue is important, but the program can also do more to grow its other revenue sources. That comes back to a stronger basketball program and investment in baseball. Georgia hoops brings in about $7.3 million and even turns a profit of nearly $1 million, but that revenue is towards the bottom of the pack in the SEC. Not surprising for a program that’s struggled to win, but the possibility for $2-3 million additional dollars is there if the turnaround continues. Baseball is also a potential source of additional revenue, but the capacity of Foley Field is a constraint. The current project to convert bleachers to chairbacks might even reduce capacity. There are no luxury boxes or sources of premium revenue. Can the demand be generated to merit significant investment in the baseball facility?