Since 1995 - Insightful commentary on the Georgia Bulldogs

Post McGarity reflects on Year 1 – what’s next?

Friday June 24, 2011

Greg McGarity took some time with the Red & Black to reflect on the “blur” that was his first year as Georgia’s athletics director. McGarity still has a lot he wants to get done, but he explained that his focus coming in was to emphasize a culture of “accountability, integrity and honesty and transparency in everything we did.”

It’s much too soon for many of McGarity’s actions to have much impact on the field or in the classroom. The academic performance of Georgia’ student-athletes has been strong for some time now, and he’ll do well to sustain or even slightly improve that area. The most recent APR numbers demonstrate that the emphasis on academic success remains as strong as ever. Georgia maintained its strong financial position, but it would have been hard to derail that train. McGarity does seem a little more willing to spend and invest some of the program’s surplus.

A new head coach for volleyball last December was McGarity’s first and only high-profile change directly affecting one of Georgia’s programs. There have been other decisions and changes which might not bear the stamp of the athletic director but with which he was probably involved. The overhaul of conditioning and nutrition for Georgia football is almost certainly one of those changes. Those changes weren’t just limited to football; the department will invest over $700,000 in “student-athlete welfare” programs and personnel.

All in all, it’s a relatively stable time for the athletic department, and that’s a welcome change from last summer. Of course there’s some tension around Mark Richt and the future of the football program, but that’s an issue that won’t come to a head for several months, and we hope it never has to come up at all. With the program financially and academically sound and McGarity’s foundation pretty well established, he can start looking at other areas of his agenda.

One of those areas might be facilities. Georgia announced its most recent facilites master plan in 2008. Some of those projects have already been completed. Football fans enjoyed Reed Alley last season – a major improvement for fans on the north side of the stadium. The transformation of Stegeman Coliseum last year was stunning, and Georgia got a big impact without having to build a new arena. Most recently the expansion of the Butts-Mehre facility allowed the football program some elbow room, provided a high-tech showpiece for the program, and provided some much-needed upgrades in the weight room and film room.

Those projects and the master plan all came on or were begun on Damon Evans’ watch. Throw in the impressive practice facility for basketball and gymnastics, and Georgia had quite a number of major capital facilities projects over the past couple of years which are now just wrapping up under McGarity. Before we pass the torch to McGarity and urge him to move on to the next big facilities project, all of the new buildings and improvements left the program with quite a bit of debt. That was part of the plan, but it’s also something you don’t shrug off even with Georgia’s strong financial standing.

Of course facilities projects don’t always involved big, hairy multi-million dollar construction work. There are always maintenence and small improvements, and the current budget includes a few of those. We saw chairbacks installed at Foley last year. There will be an upgraded video display at Sanford Stadium this year, and the Coliseum is also getting some A/V work. But there is a pause in major projects, and that’s probably for the best. There’s only so much debt the athletic department can take on, and there is no magical raising of that debt ceiling. The Athletic Association’s debt as of a year ago was around $95 million.

Other than those ongoing improvements and tweaks each year, we might have to wait a while to see where McGarity will take Georgia’s facilities. But as the debt begins to be paid off, we can turn our eye to other projects on that 2008 master plan. The expansion of Sanford Stadium jumps out. We’ve been over the pros and cons of expansion, but now doesn’t seem to be the right time. Unfortunately that’s mainly due to a football product that isn’t as in demand as it was three years ago, and the program plays its highest-profile games elsewhere. There just isn’t the motivation or pressure to expand now. The future of Foley Field is also an interesting topic. It’s been 20 years since the last major work on the baseball facility, and it’s not among the SEC’s best.

With Sanford expansion talk cooling down, the project always near the top of the football fan’s wish list is the indoor facility. One thing the Butts-Mehre expansion didn’t include was a full-blown indoor practice facility. Yes, there’s a small covered turf area where the team could feasibly walk through some drills in a pinch. No one is confusing it with a substitute practice field where the day’s work can be done. For fans it’s a no-brainer. [rival] has one, so we must. The debate about whether such a facility is a priority is a whole other topic, but it’s there on the master plan, so we’ll have to talk about it eventually.

One thing we do know is that Richt has been consistent about the building being more than a roof over a practice field:

Richt clearly wants to sell the project as being more than a place for the football team to practice a few times a year. He said there would be a 300-meter track around the field for indoor meets. The dining room would be used by regular students. Tailgating and other game-day activities would be held there, too.

The price tag for such a facility 5-10 years ago was around $30 million. We assume it might be higher now, but how much higher depends on how badly construction and related firms need the work in the current economy. Still, it’s a significant project at any time as the Coliseum facility was. A few recent projects at other schools show the spectrum of what can be done for a certain price point. Tech’s basic roof-over-a-field facility will cost only $6-7 million with at least half of that coming from private funds. Oklahoma State’s more ambitious facility will cost around $16 million and will be paid for with a private donation. Auburn likewise is working on a $16 million facility.

Would Georgia need the extras that would make its facility cost twice as much? The indoor track and related amenities are important features that most of these other football-only facilities won’t have, so yes – there would be a higher cost. But much of the reception space, offices, and other elements of the original design are included in the Butts-Mehre expansion. There just isn’t the need anymore for a grand football palace since we already more or less have one along E. Rutherford St.

Greg McGarity has had plenty to do just getting his team in place and running over the past year. There’s no question he’s willing to put the people and resources behind a worthwhile project, but it would be interesting to hear his thoughts on the future of some of these facilities projects as well as Georgia’s debt outlook. If we look to his experience at Florida as we have on several other topics, it’s worthwhile to note that the Gators are one of the few other major programs around the region that have, so far, avoided participating in the indoor practice facility arms race.

Comments are closed.