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Post Athens is getting a new arena?

Thursday March 24, 2022

A reader asks in Seth Emerson’s latest mailbag:

I wonder why UGA wouldn’t look to partner with the city for a new state-of-the-art arena that could house basketball and concerts?

Seth’s reply notes that Columbia, SC had good success doing just that, but Columbia is a larger city and state capitol. Further, “UGA likes the location of Stegeman, the middle of campus where students and fans alike can get there.” But, Emerson concludes, “if they were able to create some space in that (downtown) area it would help the long-term facilities plan” and free up some scarce land around the athletics complex.

It turns out that Athens is building a new downtown arena, but the University of Georgia’s varsity athletic teams won’t figure into those plans. This project has flown so far under the radar that Emerson didn’t seem aware of it in his response. I only stumbled across an article last week about its groundbreaking ceremony. The Classic Center Arena “is envisioned to provide a 5,500-seat public assembly facility/arena space” connected to both the Classic Center complex and the downtown multimodal transit facility. Groundbreaking is scheduled for Thursday April 28th, and equipment is already moving into place.

The arena, scheduled to open in 2023, will have 5,500 permanent seats “with the capacity to hold up to 8,000 people along with the ability to transform for any occasion from concerts and sports tournaments to banquets and general sessions.” Its ice rink will provide a larger space for Georgia’s club hockey team, and the Classic Center has signed an agreement to bring in a professional East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) team. It sounds like a nice little multi-use mid-sized event space for the Athens and northeast Georgia area. You can see plans and a virtual walkthrough here.

Was this a missed opportunity? I and Emerson’s correspondent asked whether the city and university ever considered a joint project. Emerson mentioned South Carolina’s facility. Rupp Arena is another example, anchoring the downtown Lexington hotel and convention center. Athens wouldn’t have needed to consider something at the scale of those two arenas – just a modest increase in capacity would bring the arena into line with new arenas at Ole Miss (9,500), Auburn (9,121), and a planned arena at Alabama (10,136). Athletic department funds could help increase the capacity and provide the finishing touches taking it from a nice small-town civic center to a modern collegiate arena. The Athens downtown is practically adjacent to the UGA campus, so an “off-campus” arena at the Classic Center isn’t really a problem for student access.

That ship seems to have sailed now – designs are finalized and earth will begin moving in about a month. Athens will have its own arena that can host high school sports tournaments, all but the largest concerts, and other events that can draw several thousand people. It won’t necessarily compete against Athens’ smaller music venues, but it might help to draw a wider variety of entertainment options to the area. Stegeman Coliseum was never really in this market aside from the occasional Homecoming concert or high school basketball championship. For now it will continue on as Georgia’s home for volleyball, gymnastics, and basketball fresh off an $8 million 2017 renovation.

The future of Stegeman Coliseum has been debated by Georgia fans for decades, and incremental renovations have transformed the building into a serviceable SEC facility. It might have reached its limit after the latest round of improvements. The location of a new arena has always been the sticking point: on-campus or off-campus? An on-campus arena is always the preferred location, and the current site is really the only viable on-campus space. But then what to do during the two years or so during construction? Georgia Tech played in Duluth while its arena was rebuilt in place ten years ago. That’s an option for Georgia, too, but an alternate location within walking distance of campus would be far better. If the Classic Center Arena isn’t going to be the permanent solution, it might at least serve as a temporary home if a decision is made down the road to replace Stegeman Coliseum in-place. Capacity would be a concern even if the 5,500 base capacity can be stretched upwards of 8,000. But that higher number gets you close enough to at least consider the tradeoff of capacity for the convenience of location.

I’m curious to see how this downtown arena comes together and what is possible with local municipal funding. It’s tough to shake the notion that something grander was possible in partnership with the University, but maybe this wasn’t the time or location for anything more ambitious. There certainly would have been many, but certainly not unique or unsolvable, questions of oversight and responsibility for a shared facility. There might have been legal limitations on the use of SPLOST funds. These plans were coming together as Greg McGarity planned his retirement and during the onset of the pandemic. Emerson himself has reminded us several times that Georgia’s athletic department lacked a master facilities plan, so an opportunity to develop a joint solution might have caught Georgia unprepared. Whatever the reasons, Athens will soon have its own small arena, and the University of Georgia will continue in its own 58-year-old on-campus facility.


Post Stegeman’s unchanging banners an opportunity for Josh Brooks

Thursday March 10, 2022

It’s unfair to say that Josh Brooks has had an easy first year as Georgia’s athletic director. He’s already had to appoint three new head coaches under very different circumstances. He’s supervised the ongoing expansion of the Butts-Mehre facility to serve the football program and other sports. He’s listened to fans and made incremental improvements to the fan experience at Georgia sporting events. Brooks has been a busy man and a visible administrator.

It’s also true that Brooks came into the job at perhaps the best possible time. The school’s flagship football program is the best in the nation. Happy fans are buying tickets and merchandise, and the Hartman Fund donation numbers should be a sight to behold this year. Brooks, as befits his role as athletic director, was right there to join in all of the back-slapping and celebrations that went along with the national title. The months since the national title haven’t been as cheerful for Georgia’s winter sports, and Brooks might soon have to transition from posing for pictures with the CFP trophy to less pleasant duties and press conferences.

Stegeman Coliseum’s banners hang from the west end of the arena, and you can’t help but notice them while facing the flag during the performance of the national anthem. As you’d expect, Georgia’s historically strong gymnastics program claims most of the accomplishments (and only national titles) celebrated on those banners. The women’s basketball program adds its five Final Four appearances and eight SEC crowns. We know that championship seasons for men’s basketball have been few and far between, but they too have their place with a Final Four run in 1983 and three SEC titles.

What stands out is that none of the banners have needed an update since 2009. Stegeman’s winter occupants haven’t brought home an SEC title, much less a national title, since the GymDogs sent Suzanne Yoculan into retirement by rallying for another national championship in 2009. The only other schools without SEC titles in basketball or gymnastics since 2009 are Arkansas and Missouri. Are any of these sports close to adding to their banners?

Stegeman Banners

Men’s Basketball

The fate of the 2021-2022 men’s basketball season was sealed last spring. Tom Crean was retained after an unremarkable year. Nine players transferred out. The current roster was cobbled together from a few remaining players, a low-impact signing class, and whatever Georgia could scrape together from the transfer portal. The nature of Crean’s contract buyout essentially placed the program in hospice for a year. There was little doubt how it would end. The only questions were “when will it end?” and “how bad would it get?” We know the answers are “now” and “historically bad.”

Success in men’s basketball has been the white whale of Georgia athletics. Everyone has an idea how to fix things, but they all boil down to recruiting. Almost every year someone points out the Georgia natives enjoying postseason success elsewhere. This year we’ve been reminded weekly how several key members of the 2021 Georgia team have important roles for contenders. Recruiting is more than getting an isolated signature: it’s a sustained process of assembling and retaining a competitive roster year after year. Anthony Edwards was a recruiting coup for Tom Crean, but no one followed. Sahvir Wheeler and KD Johnson were above-average guards who left for better opportunities when a more competitive frontcourt couldn’t be built around them. Just assembling a quality roster and holding it together long enough to build something has been too much to ask.

Because of the transient nature of the 2021-2022 roster, the next men’s basketball coach won’t start out in a good position. There won’t be much of a splash in the spring recruiting period. There will be some typical attrition. Perhaps a handful of contributors from the current squad stick it out through the transition. Georgia will again be reliant on incoming transfers for a good chunk of its roster next season while the new staff gets its recruiting operation into gear. It’s likely to be an ugly, messy situation for a year or two – and that’s the lower limit if the next coach can gain recruiting traction within a year. Will that challenge make Georgia a less-attractive destination for a promising coaching prospect?

Gymnastics

North Carolina women’s soccer. Iowa wrestling. Arkansas track and field. Few schools are fortunate to host a college sports dynasty, and Suzanne Youculan’s ten national titles from 1987-2009 made Georgia gymnastics a national powerhouse. Yoculan went out on top with five straight national titles from 2005-2009 before she retired. Dynasties end, and it’s never easy going replacing a legendary coach. Jay Clark struggled to sustain the program’s success and has had much better results at LSU. Danna Durante managed three Super Six appearances from 2013-2016 but couldn’t bring home titles. With Yoculan’s blessing, Courtney Kupets Carter – one of Georgia’s superstars during the five straight titles in the 2000s – was brought in to recapture Georgia’s former glory and has been at the helm for five seasons.

Unfortunately Kupets Carter hasn’t returned Georgia to the level of the Yoculan era. The program has even slid from Durante’s time. Georgia finished 2021 ranked #18 and will finish the 2022 regular season out of the top 20. Meanwhile, programs like Florida, LSU, and even Auburn have taken steps forward. Top-ranked Oklahoma will be joining the SEC soon.

There is much more sentimental attachment to Kupets Carter than there is to someone like Crean. Kupets Carter is a beloved figure in Georgia sports history and one of its most accomplished athletes. She took over with a hearty endorsement from Suzanne Yoculan. Yoculan even assisted for a season while Kupets-Carter found her stride as head coach. There has been some bad luck with injuries, but the program shows no signs of returning to SEC contender or national Super Six status anytime soon.

Women’s Basketball

The women’s basketball program might present the most difficult situation for Brooks. Joni Taylor took a team to the SEC tournament final in 2021, was named SEC coach of the year, and is headed back to the NCAA tournament for the second straight season. That’s not a floundering program. Yet, due to Dennis Felton’s improbable run to the SEC tournament title in 2008, the women’s basketball program has gone the longest without adding to its Stegeman Coliseum banners. It’s been over 20 years since Kelly Miller’s buzzer-beater gave Georgia the 2001 SEC tournament championship. Georgia got as far as the NCAA Regional Final in 2004 and 2013 but came up just short of the Final Four. They haven’t returned to the Sweet 16 since.

Taylor’s results have been inconsistent over her seven seasons. This year marks just the first time she’s been able to string together consecutive NCAA tournament bids. Georgia has earned two top 16 national seeds in Taylor’s seven seasons, but they’ve been unable to sustain that level of play in the subsequent seasons. Last season’s SEC final appearance fizzled out in the second round of the NCAA tournament. A promising 2022 season that had Georgia approaching the top ten ended in an early-round exit at the SEC tournament. Recruiting seems to be on the upswing: Georgia will welcome the #7 signing class after inking the #14 class a year ago. Getting more out of these signing classes must be a priority.

The trap is complacency. The program has not come close to the futility of the men’s program, but neither has it met the standard Taylor embraced when she took over from Andy Landers. Georgia’s staff has remained unchanged since Taylor took over for the 2015-2016 season. The rest of the SEC has not stood still. Georgia shows signs of stability and even some progress in recruiting, but you also don’t want to plateau as a program that just makes it into the NCAA tournament and struggles to finish in the SEC top four. That was the state of the program when Landers decided it was time to step aside. Taylor’s program might be the closest of the three to adding another title, but are there steps Brooks can take to help Taylor get her program to the next level? How do you send the message that good should be better?

A common thread?

Recently ESPN’s Mark Schlabach went in-depth about the persistent issues with Georgia men’s basketball. The points are familiar ones to UGA basketball fans, but the details about Georgia’s recruiting approach in particular are still bewildering. Schalabach also brings up Georgia’s facilities. The practice facility was state of the art when it opened 15 years ago and is still a strong resource with dedicated practice, training, and locker space for all three programs. Stegeman Coliseum itself received a major facelift just a few years ago with improvements to the seating bowl and concourses. There is only so much that can be done to Stegeman without replacing it completely, and Georgia is close to that limit. A new facility is a separate discussion, but Georgia has invested quite a bit in capital improvements for these sports over the past two decades.

But capital spending is only one type of investment in the programs. The annual budgets provide the resources to operate day-to-day in those facilities. In 2015, Georgia’s football expenses were about $2 million below the SEC median. By 2020 Georgia was spending $7 million more on football than the median SEC school. Kirby Smart led a significant increase in the football support staff, recruiting resources, and other expenses to go along with capital projects like the West Endzone, indoor practice facility, and Butts-Mehre expansion.

Spending has increased on Georgia’s basketball programs, but they still lag relative to their SEC peers. For the reporting year 2020, Georgia spent $8.3 million on men’s basketball. LSU spent $9.3 million, Tennessee spent $13.1 million, South Carolina spent $8.2 million, and Kentucky blew everyone away with $19.1 million in men’s basketball expenses. For women’s basketball, Georgia spent $4.4 million. LSU spent $4.7 million, Kentucky spent $5.3 million, South Carolina spent $6.9 million, and Tennessee spent $7.3 million.

It’s not about the head coach’s salary. Crean earned $3.2 million, making him one of the 20 highest-paid coaches in the nation in 2020. Taylor likewise is paid well relative to the market. As with football, the annual budget allows a program to increase the support staff, have a larger pool of funds with which to attract better assistants, and provide better meals, travel, and other quality-of-life benefits for the players. Of course there’s not a direct relationship between spending and success, but Georgia’s relative thriftiness here isn’t done out of virtue. It’s no surprise though that Kentucky men’s basketball and Tennessee women’s basketball are among the biggest spenders. Kirby Smart made the case for an expansion of the football budget when he took the job. Will the athletic administration be as receptive if a new basketball coach makes a similar case?

The fans are already there

Tom Crean implored fans to pack Stegeman during his first two seasons, and they responded with sellouts in an unmistakable show of faith in the new coach. Georgia basketball was a hot ticket during the Anthony Edwards season even without a winning team on the court. Support has waned as the program failed to live up to its end of the deal. The GymDogs still draw large crowds and sold out a recent meet with Auburn as the large fan base built by Yoculan’s tireless showmanship persists through some lean years. Even women’s basketball drew large crowds during their championship and Final Four seasons. Georgia is indeed a football school, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a large number of Georgia fans who would like to see more from the winter sports and who are willing to show up and support those programs.

Fans will be watching how Josh Brooks handles the men’s basketball transition. It’s not only an opportunity to reverse the decades-long fortunes of that program. It’s also going to be a signal to fans of all of Stegeman’s occupants. What will be the standards for success? What level of investment and support can these programs expect? Can the same combination of institutional vision and resources that led to a title in Indianapolis also align to finally add more dates to Stegeman Coliseum’s banners?


Post Issues and expectations for Georgia’s next athletic director

Wednesday December 2, 2020

Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity announced his retirement this week, effective at the end of 2020. Senior Deputy Director of Athletics Josh Brooks will step in on an interim basis until McGarity’s successor takes the job. McGarity has served in the role since 2010 and has presided over a large increase in the department’s revenues and budget, and he’s overseen coaching changes in nearly all of Georgia’s major programs.

It’s possible that Georgia’s next athletic directory is already part of the organization – Brooks himself is expected to be a candidate. It might also be a man or woman with no ties to the school. Familiarity with certain candidates might bias us one way or the other, and it would be doing Georgia a disservice not to consider qualified outside candidates for a job that will surely attract attention from across the nation. How many lists did Dan Lanning or Todd Monken appear on before Kirby Smart selected them as coordinators? So rather than get bogged down in the pros and cons of name that might or might not exist on Georgia’s list, I’ll focus more on the issues waiting for the AD and what might be expected from the ideal candidate.

Maintaining the strengths: Before getting on with grandiose plans for the future, the next AD must identify and maintain the areas in which Georgia athletics is strong. That goes for personnel but also processes in areas like athletic performance, academic support, compliance, and financial responsibility. Georgia has largely avoided scandal under McGarity, though the 2014 NCAA reprimand of the swimming and diving program wasn’t a good look for anyone. It’s a low bar to expect character, transparency, and consideration of the student-athletes from an athletics administration, but have you looked around lately?

The bank account: Georgia’s reserve fund has been a point of contention for years, but that financial strength has allowed the athletic department to weather the pandemic without the cuts to personnel or programs that we’ve seen even at other P5 schools. The introduction of the Magill Society has been a success to the point that even that exclusive group of donors has been subdivided into still higher tiers of support. Private funds were successfully raised for three major facilities projects. We won’t pretend that these projects didn’t happen without some conflict, and hesitation to invest in the football program was a major friction point towards the end of the Mark Richt era. McGarity’s legacy must own that period too. The need for a healthy reserve has to be balanced against securing the resources Georgia’s programs need to be competitive. On the whole, the next AD will be starting on a firm financial footing.

Performance: You play to win the game, and on that front Georgia hasn’t been doing as well. Sure, football seems to be in great shape, and that ends the discussion for a lot of stakeholders. Other sports haven’t been doing as well, and that includes sports that have traditionally propped up Georgia’s all-sport ranking. The new AD won’t have long before there are decisions to make from the basketball programs on down. Even within successful programs like football, coaches and staff must be identified, retained, and compensated. An AD’s legacy is often shaped by the personnel decisions he or she makes, and it doesn’t just affect wins and losses. A series of poor hiring decisions can leave even SEC programs responsible for large buyouts and without financial flexibility.

Advocacy: Representing Georgia’s interests beyond the hedges is an important part of the athletic director’s job. Whether accurate or not, the perception is that McGarity was often too deferential and unwilling to stand against scheduling changes and other policies that affected Georgia. This is touchy – we see the outcomes, but we frequently don’t know the discussions that went on and options for alternatives. It wasn’t McGarity’s style to raise a stink in traditional or social media, and I suspect that’s what some critics would have preferred. How assertive will the next AD be with the conference and NCAA, and how visible will that advocacy be?

Leadership for change: Some major change could soon be coming to college athletics. Name / Likeness / Image (NIL) policies and laws that allow student-athletes to earn money are already being crafted and passed. More universal and permissive transfer policies are being discussed, and we could soon see a one-time transfer allowance. More importantly, 2020 has raised the profile of college athletes as agents for social change. How will the next AD position Georgia in these areas? Will Georgia be one of the driving forces at the forefront of change, or will it be dragged along? Support for initiatives like “Dawgs For Pups” and voting registration on campus was impressive this year, and the next AD should continue that support.

Facilities: McGarity completed or began several significant facilities projects, and those projects included several highly-visible (and arguably long-overdue) buildings. The indoor practice facility is the obvious example. The West Endzone project at Sanford Stadium addressed needs for recruiting and locker room space. The under-construction Butts-Mehre annex will provide room for the football program’s growing footprint. Stegeman Coliseum, Foley Field, and the tennis complex have seen or are undergoing significant renovations. It’s been an impressive investment in facilities that will benefit many of Georgia’s programs.

What’s left to do? That’s kind of the point. Seth Emerson and others have beat the drum for several years about the need for a more comprehensive master plan to serve as a vision going forward. Such a plan would provide a clearer vision to potential donors and guide future spending. As Emerson put it, the goal of a master plan “is not to go willy-nilly into the arms race and waste money.” We’ve seen Alabama take a step in this direction a couple of years ago with their $600 million facilities plan. Georgia will have different needs and priorities, but that’s the sort of focused vision that’s necessary in the next generation of facilities projects at Georgia.

Customer Experience: It’s likely that any facilities plan will include the crown jewel itself: Sanford Stadium. In the past a stadium project meant increased capacity. That’s no longer the case. Even before the pandemic, the growing appeal of watching from home was eating away at the demand to attend games. New stadium construction now focuses more on amenities rather than capacity, and renovations are following suit. Recent work on Bryant-Denny Stadium at Alabama resulted in a modest decrease in capacity. As the report notes, “Alabama’s shift to a slightly smaller capacity follows the trend of colleges pulling back from the arms race for the biggest while shifting to emphasize the premium experience.”

That “premium experience” is the watchword now. Georgia clumsily dipped its toe into the premium experience game last year with the Magill-only beer garden. It’s likely that any significant project at Sanford Stadium will include (if not exclusively) amenities aimed at enhancing the experience for high-dollar fans. That’s not meant to be cynical. If there’s a softness in the demand for stadium expansion, revenue growth is most likely to come from the top levels of donors, and keeping those donors happy will be a high priority. Any modern stadium or arena is built with that consideration in mind, and now renovation projects like Alabama’s are attempting to retrofit older stadiums with similar amenities.

But beyond that we know there are improvements to be made that can benefit all fans, and many of them don’t require construction equipment. Josh Brooks, McGarity’s interim replacement, spearheaded several of those improvements. Grab-and-go concessions has been a big improvement. We can also expect to see a deeper dive into paperless tickets and moving other elements of the game experience onto mobile devices. That’s the norm now for professional sports, and the pandemic has hastened a move towards a touchless experience. Brooks and McGarity have both been willing to listen to and engage with fan feedback. That’s to their credit and a good first step. We know all of the familiar complaints about Sanford Stadium from parking to bathrooms to crowded concourses to poor cell service. The next AD will hear about them too. Will there be action?


Post Returning to a very different Athens

Saturday October 3, 2020

Just a few things have changed since the rainy November afternoon when Georgia last hosted a football game. The 2019 home season featured two marquee opponents and a new light display that was the talk of the nation and, to be honest, more compelling than most of the action on the field last year. In 2020, we’re just glad to have four home games with capacity limited to 20-25%. The homefield advantage that carried Georgia over Notre Dame won’t be nearly the same despite the addition of artificial noise and the best efforts of the 20,000 present. Typically a visit from ESPN’s College Gameday would have fans fighting for spaces before dawn. This year Gameday will be set up outside the recruiting lounge in Sanford Stadium with no live audience.

As I watched the first few weeks of high school and college games, it’s evident that any plan is only as good as compliance and enforcement. Both seem to be in short supply (on the sidelines as well as the stands.) Many fans feel free to flaunt or test the guidelines (especially after a few drinks), and officials don’t want to be confrontational. We’ll see how the compliance and enforcement go around Athens on Saturday, but if other games tell us anything, we should expect our share of tiresome screenshots shaming noncompliant fans.

Tailgating

We know that on-campus tailgating is limited. Tailgaters must have a ticket to the game and essentially follow the old-school definition of tailgating: a bucket of chicken at the car just before the game. It was confusing to read those rules while learning that Georgia has “banned tailgating” for the season. Deputy AD Josh Brooks provided some clarity:

“No tents, no tables, those big setups, anything that promotes a big gathering, we’re asking everyone to be responsible and stay in their (smaller) groups,” Brooks said. “We are trying to give people a little relief, because we know they don’t want to go straight to the stadium. It was our best attempt to offer a solution or compromise without promoting large social gatherings.”

So a few beers and some snacks at the car with your travel party – fine. Setting up Tent City with grills, TVs, and a DJ might draw some attention. The ban also serves to limit on-campus tailgating away from parking lots at places like Myers Quad.

It stands to reason that the campus tailgating ban will push most tailgating off-campus. That includes downtown bars, off-campus lots, and private residences and businesses. UGA fraternities have agreed to ban tailgating at their houses. That’s good (if enforced), but again it adds to the crowd downtown and at apartment complexes.

The likelihood of off-campus gatherings hasn’t escaped Athens officials. Current state guidelines limit gatherings to 50 people. In September the mayor of Athens asked the governor to amend the state’s order to allow for local exceptions including a 10-person gathering limit to aid in crowd control. There doesn’t seem to have been any movement on that front.

At the game

We know the basics: limited crowd, masks required, distanced seating, cashless concessions, and plentiful sanitizers. Attendance will be constrained to around 20-25% of capacity or around 20,000 fans. No tickets were sold to visiting fans, but tickets are plentiful on the secondary market.

Live mascots aren’t allowed this year. Charles Seiler has it exactly right: the issue with Uga is that he attracts a crowd. He’s a magnet for people, and that’s a situation schools are trying to avoid.

The Redcoat Band and Georgia cheerleaders will be present, but they’ll have reduced squads and will be confined to the stands.

Brooks indicated that there will be artificial noise to augment the Redcoats and fans. An ambient noise level of 70 decibels is allowed, and they can pump it up to 90 decibels after big plays. Again, it’s not likely that someone will be standing on the sideline with a decibel meter, so we’ll see how fast and loose schools are with those limits.

Enjoy!

Hopefully enough people will be mindful so that everyone is able to have a safe time before, during, and after the game. Everyone should know the drill by now, and everyone has agency to know in which situations they’ll be comfortable and to decide where they do and don’t go. Several Athens bars have posted notices that they do not consent to enforcement of local mask ordinances. That’s fine and within the law – they’re giving you the information you need to make informed decisions about your gameday activities. With campus all but shut down, expect downtown to be the epicenter of gatherings and a test of the local ability (and will) to control those gatherings.

I admit – it’s going to be tough to miss my first home game since 1990. I’m genuinely curious to see how both fans and the school pull it off and what impact 20,000 fans can have on a big game. More than anything, I hope those who do attend have a great time, cheer on the Dawgs to a win, and return home without contributing to the spread of a still-active pandemic.


Post How to mess up a perfectly reasonable price increase

Thursday February 8, 2018

Two things bugged me about Georgia’s decision to raise ticket prices. I really don’t have much problem with the increase itself. We all know what the market is like, and anyone who’s followed the Dawgs on the road has first-hand experience with the concept of premium pricing. Two things though…

Transparency

Outgoing athletics board member Janet Frick noted that the board wasn’t given the full proposal on paper until the meeting at which the proposal was approved. That implies that those who submitted the proposal expected it to sail through the approval process as-is without much consideration, dissent, or discussion. In this case, they were probably right. Even Frick admits that the proposal was “appropriate,” and there was no real objection. Frick’s larger point has to do with transparency.

“Organizations are healthier when there is time and consideration and full vetting of decisions before they happen. We need discussion and dissent. That leads to better long-term decisions. No one benefits from a “rubberstamp” mentality,” she tweeted.

There have been too many stories lately about institutions turning a blind eye to ongoing abuse within athletic organizations. There have been no such allegations at Georgia, and Seth Emerson does a good job of discussing the issue as it pertains to Georgia. These instances of abuse elsewhere festered for years in large part because the individuals and systems in positions of responsibility allowed them to continue. The coverup doesn’t have to be active, though in some horrific cases it was. Often it was enough to remain passive – to not ask questions, to kick the can down the road, or to blindly sign off on the decisions and actions of others.

Yes, it’s a stretch to mention an uncontroversial ticket price increase in the same breath as the far more serious problems that reach all the way to the NCAA commissioner. What they have in common though is some breakdown in oversight. It’s one thing to be careless with the presentation of a proposal, but I doubt Frick would raise the issue if this were the only instance of a “rubberstamp mentality” she had encountered in three years on the board. Transparency, dissent, and discussion don’t have to be contrarian. As Frick notes, they’re signs of a healthy oversight body that’s likely to be out in front of more substantial problems.

Update: I think we understand now why the proposal was rushed through the board. The administration didn’t seem prepared to present any kind of coherent case in support of the proposal to the general public, let alone to the board charged with the program’s oversight.

More for less

We know that the 2018 home schedule, especially the non-conference part, isn’t all that great.* We’re used to our biggest SEC rivalry game played off-campus. We also know that Kirby Smart is in favor of playing major programs at neutral sites to start the season. The economics favor neutral site games.

What it all means is that even with the ticket price increase we’re less likely to see Georgia’s best games included as part of the season ticket package. Notre Dame will be an exception, but that was agreed to years ago. Not only will you be paying more for your season tickets, there will also be one and occasionally two additional tickets at premium prices above even the highest $75 home ticket price. Your season ticket package will contain four, and sometimes only three, SEC opponents, Tech every other year, and whatever lower-tier nonconference games the school can negotiate.

As a friend put it, if you’re going to raise prices I want more $75 games and fewer $55 ones.

* – What happened with the 2017 home schedule was pure alchemy. 2017 was supposed to be a garbage home slate full of sleepy nooners. Somehow we ended up with an unprecedented number of late games and the opportunity to see in person:

  • Fromm’s immediate impact coming off the bench
  • The team come into its own against MSU, the darling of September
  • How the team and Fromm would respond in a shootout against Missouri
  • The team clinch the SEC East against SC
  • Sending off a legendary senior class in the home finale

Not a bad year to be in Sanford Stadium.


Post A roof over their heads

Monday January 23, 2017

When you see this past weekend called “Georgia’s biggest remaining official visit weekend” and hear about the awful weather going on across the state, it’s a good time to let Georgia’s new IPF have its first big moment.

The IPF won’t be officially dedicated until mid-February, but it’s already getting plenty of use. There were walk-throughs during bowl practices, and offseason workouts are going on there almost daily. Now it’s also available to host some of the most important prospects remaining on Georgia’s board.

Yes, the prospects had a lot of stops across campus and across Athens that put them out into weather that wasn’t nearly as nice as last weekend’s. It’s still nice to bring them back by the showpiece facility and hand out in the program’s new home.

PS…Georgia’s football program isn’t the only team using the IPF to get better during their offseason.


Post Kirby Smart introduced as Georgia’s 26th football head coach

Monday December 7, 2015

It was an impressive first press conference. He’ll have to get right to work assembling a staff and a recruiting class, but he’ll remain at Alabama through the playoffs. As with all new hires, time will tell whether Smart was a good choice, but it’s clear that those who set these wheels in motion after the Florida game got the guy they wanted. Now the hard part begins…

Here’s Smart’s introductory press conference and transcript.


Post Frat Beach fallout

Friday October 16, 2015

Earlier this summer Glynn County officials sent word across the state that they’d be cracking down on underage drinking, littering, disorderly conduct, and similar violations during the annual influx of students known as “Frat Beach” during the Georgia-Florida weekend. Trashed beaches – and trashed students – got to a point where the local government felt the need to respond.

Whether because of that crackdown or more general apathy towards Georgia football and the Florida game, there’s definitely been an immediate impact on the local hospitality industry. The Brunswick News reports that hotel reservations for the weekend are down by as much as 30 percent from 2014. The CEO of the Golden Isles Convention and Visitors Bureau claims that “In the past, we are usually at 100 percent occupancy by now…hotels that are usually sold out by now still have up to 40 rooms available.” The vacancies even extend to beach properties.

So good news if you’re still looking for a place for the WLOCP. But Golden Isles businesses who depend on that weekend for a little shot in the arm after the summer tourist season might be reconsidering how much frat they are willing to tolerate on their beaches.


Post Missouri kickoff set for 7:30

Monday October 5, 2015

Georgia’s October 17th Homecoming game against Missouri will be broadcast at 7:30 p.m. on the SEC Network. The network’s lead team of Brent Musburger, Jesse Palmer, and Maria Taylor will be on hand to call the game.

It’s the latest kickoff yet this season. Students and many fans will be excited about the night game. That this is Homecoming though takes a bit of the shine off of the late start. Homecoming weekend is important for many student organizations but also for many older fans for whom the late night will be a hardship or just impossible. That’s why Homecoming kickoffs are typically so much earlier. The new experience of a Homecoming game in prime time will be interesting for sure, and you can bet that many groups planning Homecoming activities and tailgates are scrambling right now to deal with the later start.


Post Ruga Retirement

Monday July 13, 2015

It was mentioned almost as an afterthought at Saturday’s Countdown to Kickoff event in Athens: “Oh, yeah.  Uga IX will be retiring this year.  Here’s his likely successor.”

Details of the relatively low-key announcement were soon reported.  Uga IX, formerly known as Russ, will hand over mascot duties at some point during the 2015 season.  The successor hasn’t been determined yet, but there is a pool of three candidates.  At Saturday’s event, fans got to meet Que, a two-year-old grandson of Uga IX, and Que was observed to see how he’d handle crowds and the heat.  It wasn’t mentioned whether the other candidates would get a similar tryout, but Picture Day in August would be one possible opportunity.  

[Click here for a gallery of pictures of Que from UGASports.com]

At over 11 years of age, Uga IX has had some health issues and is in the later years of the lifespan of an average bulldog.  Russ served as an interim mascot beginning in 2009 between Uga VII and VIII, and he resumed interim duties after Uga VIII died in 2011.  He was promoted to Uga IX in 2012 and has served as mascot since.   

The date of the transition wasn’t announced either.  Sonny Seiler indicated that it would likely happen later in the season after the weather cools. But that brings up a very important question:


Post 2015 Homecoming game set

Tuesday October 28, 2014

The 2015 SEC schedule was announced earlier this month. Today a tweet from the UGA Alumni Association announced that Homecoming 2015 will fall on October 17th when the Dawgs welcome Missouri to Sanford Stadium.


Post Not a Georgia point of pride

Friday September 26, 2014

Not much to say about this story, but I’ll just note this: for the second time in a year, we’ve had an embarrassing story out of the athletic department involving one of the “old guard” which might’ve been mitigated or even avoided had the leadership seen a problem coming and acted sooner.


Post License plate update for North Carolina Dawgs

Tuesday August 6, 2013

There’s a campaign underway to get a UGA-branded license plate in the state of North Carolina. The good news – they’re only 25 people short of what they need to get the plates into production. The bad news – the deadline is August 31st. If you’re in North Carolina or know of any Georgia fans in the Tar Heel State, please go or send your friends to this page to learn how to register for the new plates.


Post A Sanford Stadium idea worth throwing out

Tuesday October 2, 2012

This sounded like a good idea to someone:

  • Have everyone root around in the grime under their seats for plastic bottles.
  • Pass these bottles to the aisles, making sure everyone has a good chance to touch whatever is on them.
  • Leave this pile of bottles with the poor folks at the end of the aisles who are supposed to keep the bottles where exactly?
  • Oh, right – the bottles are supposed to be collected by the Boy Scouts. The Scouts are apparently expected to canvass every aisle on every level of the stadium in the few minutes following the PSA, carrying huge plastic bags of empty bottles up the crowded and narrow stairs.

I’m not sure how many aisles there are in Sanford Stadium. There are 40-some sections in the lower level, and you also have the club level, upper deck, and the 600 level. Can we guess around 100 aisles? How many Scouts would you expect it would take to get up and down a typical aisle (remember, the lower level has about 60 rows), collect a loose group of bottles from each row, and move this load of plastic out into the concourse? Remember, they’ll be doing this during a break in the game when the aisle is also likely to be occupied by other people moving around during the break (probably reloading with more plastic bottles!)

I imagine that would take a lot of Scouts. It’s a logistical impossibility to have the manpower (Scoutpower?) to hit every aisle and remove the amassed plastic from each row much before the Redcoats finish their post-game concert. I know this because our lower-level aisle (not exactly in the 600-level hinterlands) has yet to be visited by a group of helpful bag-wielding Scouts. Instead, each time the PSA has run this year, the nice people at the end of the row have been left with an unpleasant collection of water and soda bottles sent down by the obedient and well-meaning fans from the interior of the row.

The emphasis on recycling is worthwhile. The Hairy Dawg spot is hilarious and pitch-perfect. We’ve appreciated the additional recycling containers across campus during tailgating, and I’ve even noticed tailgaters using them and self-policing their group to make sure cans and bottles end up in the right place. (It was disappointing, though, just to have the regular trash bins at the gate when a lot of people are finishing that last “soda” or water on the way to the game.) This is all good, and I could see a difference in the state of our part of campus even after a couple of night games.

But as positive as that is, this bottle collection effort is an example of a good idea taken too far. It’s unsanitary, impossible to pull off in any reasonable amount of time, and it puts patrons towards the ends of the aisle – often season ticket holders paying at least several hundreds of dollars a year – in the lovely role of human landfill while they wait for the Scouts who will probably not be coming.

It would be more reasonable and effective to have recycling containers at the top of each aisle and encourage fans to remove their own bottles. No, you’re not going to get participation from the guy who used his Coke bottle for a spit cup. But you might from the many who are cooperative and already willing to play this awkward game of pass-the-bottle, and you’d do it without disrupting other fans who just want to use the aisle to get to their seats and enjoy (or stress over) a good game.


Post Athletic board tackles contracts, facilities, student tickets

Thursday May 24, 2012

Georgia’s athletic board met today, and as usual personnel and facilites issues dominated the agenda.

The glacial pace of contract extensions for Mark Richt and Todd Grantham continues. Athletic director Greg McGarity outlined the details of Richt’s new contract, but the contract remains incomplete and was not voted on by the board. Richt’s base salary would remain more or less steady, but his performance bonuses would be doubled. The contract will also allow Richt additional opportunities for money from “off-field sources,” including commercials. Meanwhile, Grantham’s deal is agreed to in principle but still remains “in the lawyers’ hands” and incomplete.

The board also approved several minor facilities upgrades. Scoreboards at the baseball, softball, and soccer fields will be improved. Gate 10 at Sanford Stadium (the field-level “Dawg Walk” entrance) will also receive attention. Foley Field will get $1.35 million in minor work that will touch everything from the press box, entrance, Kudzu Hill, and the trees behind left field.

The topic of student tickets came up. We’ve encouraged McGarity and the board to look at the issue, and I’m glad it was discussed. As President Adams noted, “the students have not held up their end of the bargain” in efforts to increase student turnout. This will likely remain a problem as the 2012 schedule lends itself to unattractive opponents and early kickoffs. Still, if the problem with student attendence is less about interest and more about allocation, it’s right for the board to consider action. It seemed odd though that one of the proposals would give freshmen priority in obtaining tickets. Adams was concerned about rewarding 5th-year seniors through a seniority system, but should freshmen receive priority in anything?