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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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?
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University of Georgia president Michael Adams will step down effective June 30, 2013. Dr. Adams will have been at Georgia’s helm for 16 years when he leaves office and takes on a new role with the University.
Adams, for better or worse, has been very involved in Georgia’s athletics during his 16 years. That involvement has included everything from policy and personnel decisions to putting his tail in a seat and being as much of a fan as any of us. As enrollment and stadium capactity has grown, Adams has also had to be active in areas where the interests of the University collide with the fan experience. Adams has been especially visible in combating Georgia’s party school reputation both on campus and on game day. Those clashes have made Adams a very polarizing figure, and that’s even before we look at the purely academic side of things (which we won’t).
I know there are those doing cartwheels over the announcement this morning, but this is very much a wait-and-see moment. The process to select a replacement will be, as always, as much a political one as anything. The focus will be on the governor and the Board of Regents, and if you trust those parties to approach this decision without considering their own interests, you also likely think that a college football playoff is all about the fans. A polarizing president is one thing, but behind-the-scenes power plays by relatively anonymous and unaccountable regents isn’t a better condition.
I’m not sure a lot of people know what they want the next president to be – other than “not Adams.” At this level of academic leadership, there’s a rather narrow spectrum of possibilities. Certain personalities stand out – think Gee or Machen – but it’s rarely for the better. “Ego” comes with the job. Shrinking violets don’t rise through the ranks to become department chairs and deans and seek out the leadership of a major research university. The next president will have to be a political animal. With budgets constantly under scrutiny and many constituencies inside and outside of campus, he or she has to be ambitious, savvy, and – at times – ruthless.
Maybe folks just want someone who will leave the football program alone, but we know how unrealistic that is considering how many points of contact there are between the highly-visible program and the University. The president will speak for Georgia’s interests in the SEC and the NCAA. The policies he or she supports and implements will affect the student-athlete experience and the future of coaches like Mark Richt. Adams was outspoken and controversial at times, but his departure leaves a very large vacuum. It’s not a given that this vacuum will be filled by some ideal benevolent football-friendly president who instructs the campus police to chauffeur football players home from downtown and who lets you park an RV on the North Campus quad on Wednesday afternoon.
The answer goes back to early 2006, and it has to do with what was going on around the UGA campus. University President Michael Adams, as early as his 2005 State of the Univeristy address, showed concern over the school’s reputation as a party school and its impact on “academic rigor.” Two high-profile events within the next year helped to turn that concern into momentum for campus-wide action: 1) the drug and alcohol-related death of student Lewis Fish and 2) the trashing of campus following the 2005 Auburn game.
By that point, the issue had moved from airy speeches to the editorial pages. The reaction was swift. New policies were put in place across campus that affected everyone from the underage freshman to the football tailgater. The actions and policies ranged from the prudent to the puzzling to the reactionary. See if any of these ring a bell:
President Adams and Florida’s Bernie Machen launched a campaign against the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” moniker for the football game in Jacksonville.
Georgia introduced “a comprehensive set of new penalties for students who violate UGA’s drug and alcohol policy” which included everything from a parental notification to automatic suspension from the University.
It’s no coincidence that policies meant to take aim at student drinking and drug use were accompanied by changes to the football game day experience. There is perhaps no more visible symbol of Georgia’s “party school” reputation than a football weekend – especially the football weekend in Jacksonville. The tug-of-war between the football fan and the University continues today with tweaks taking place on almost an annual basis.
In such a climate, it’s easy to see how the athletic department’s internal policies came under review. With the University cracking down on the general student population and teaming up with the Athletic Assosciation to clean up tailgating, Georgia’s guidelines for acceptable student-athlete behavior had to face scrutiny.
So in July of 2006, we ended up with this. It’s the current athletic department policy for Georgia student-athletes. It’s not a football-only policy, and, while Damon Evans and other athletics administrators might have had input, it is very much in the spirit of the more general campus-wide policies put into place around the same time.
Elkon asks “whether the current stance taken by the Georgia athletic department is the result of media attention paid to off-field issues.” The answer is, indirectly, “yes.” It’s no defense of the policy, but its existence and content makes more sense when you understand that it was much more the fruit of a top-down initiative from the University than it was any kind of organic pet project of Mark Richt or his direct higher-ups. In fact, some of the first student-athletes facing serious discipline for drug or alcohol-related incidents ran afoul not of any football team policy but mandatory University policies (see: Akeem Hebron).
With the origins of the policy understood, the next question is what can or should be done about Georgia’s very real disadvantage relative to its competition.
Should anything be done? Georgia has certainly left itself little wiggle room with its policy, but as Elkon concedes there are several areas where schools chart a course that might be considered detrimental in the context of building a competitive football program – oversigning and academics are two good examples.
It’s difficult to guess how a walk-back of the policy would be taken. Critics would certainly pounce on the timing – do you have standards only until the point that they begin to adversely affect the football program? We’re also talking about sanctioning drug use. That might not seem like such a big deal to many people, and it’s a reality of life on campus, but it’s possibly unacceptable to others who face zero-tolerance policies in their own daily lives.
It’s also not a sure thing that the University would sign off on just any revision. The motivations for a crackdown present in 2006 are for the most part still a fact of life in Athens, and the administration would certainly be aware of the mixed message it would be sending to the rest of the University community by allowing the athletic department to soften its policies without cause.
That’s not to say that the current policy is set in stone. The UGA policy itself has been modified since 2006. In 2010, the policy was amended to remove an automatic suspension after a second drug or alcohol-related arrest. That didn’t mean that the second arrest carried no consequences; it just “was designed to differentiate between a student caught with a beer in a dorm refrigerator and a DUI-related offense,” as the administration explained. The current campus-wide policy was revised in October of 2011.
Should this be an area where the SEC steps in and normalizes policies across the league? I’m not so sure. It would certainly give schools like Georgia an out by removing any competitive disadvantage, though I don’t see why schools wouldn’t be able to put in place policies that go beyond a minimum standard. I also don’t know if it’s a good idea for schools to cede more authority to the conference instead of making – and living with – their own policies that reflect their own priorities and standards.
It wouldn’t have been hard to top the old spot or most any boring commercial from that genre, but the team knocked it out of the park with this one. Great job, and kudos to R.E.M. for their participation. It never leaves you…
If you tried to order football parking passes yesterday, you know all about the technical problems with the process. More on that in another post.
But season passes for parking decks (along with per-game RV parking) remain on sale, and three of the four decks are still available. The price for a parking deck pass is $120 – not bad at all for a guaranteed and sheltered parking spot. It’s certainly cheaper (over the course of a season) than any of the municipal or private lots and decks around downtown or campus, and you don’t have to join the mad dash first thing in the morning to claim any of the sparse open free parking around the periphery of the campus.
It’s sad that this is what it’s come to when so many of us remember just pulling up anywhere on campus, but those days are long gone.
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.
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.
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It’s good news from the academic progress front. The important news first as reported by the Banner-Herald: all of Georgia’s athletics programs once again meet and surpass the minimum APR score of 925. One of the many things done right by the last athletic director was to strengthen Georgia’s support structure for the academic success of its student-athletes, and Greg McGarity gets high marks in the first batch of APR scores on his watch.
With the big news out of the way, there’s some interesting information in the details. Georgia’s football program managed to improve on a score that was second-best for the SEC a year ago. Men’s hoops, at 946, was the lowest score of all sports but a) is still over 20 points clear of danger and b) improved over last year’s score. In all, 11 of 20 sports improved their APR score, 5 dropped, and 4 stayed level.
It’s also worth noting that Georgia’s six-year graduation rate for student-athletes was a solid 77%.
As Weiszer points out, baseball can be problematic for APR due in part to the transient nature of the sport. Without full scholarships to offer, players often move in and out of programs, and junior college signings are frequent. Aligning the academic progress of so many players who entered the program at different stages of their academic careers can be a tall job. The Diamond Dawgs dropped into the problem range six years ago with an APR score of 916, but they’ve improved every year since and stand now with a respectable 952.
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"Everyone is different, but the smartest decision you can make as a prospect is to stay in state if you are from Georgia. If a guy comes from Parkview, Thomson, or anywhere, the best thing that he can do is to be a Dawg. Everybody will know you, and it is such a big thing to play for the University of Georgia."