Kirby Smart discusses new Georgia track and field facility, importance of addition of grass practice field
GREENSBORO — The University of Georgia announced plans to build a new track & field facility at its spring athletics board meeting, and no one could be more excited than Kirby Smart.
Smart, the Bulldogs’ two-time CFP championship coach, made a surprise appearance to express his support for the new track facilities project which will be constructed on S. Milledge Ave., near UGA’s baseball and softball complexes.
Georgia has spent more than $240 million in football facilities upgrades since Smart was hired, and the eighth-year head coach explained on Friday how adding a new grass practice field in place of the current track is an important step.
“What does it mean to football? For us, we’re one of only two programs in the SEC that do not have natural grass football fields side by side,” Smart said at the Ritz-Carlton Lodge on Lake Oconee, site of the annual UGA athletics board spring meetings.
“We have an indoor (football) facility that’s state of the art, but it is a turf field and it is beside our grass field,” Smart said.
“The 2023 NFL P.A. study came out with a study on natural grass versus artificial grass, and injuries are higher on artificial turf than natural grass. So one of the big advantages of this is we’ll have the ability to have two grass practice fields side by side.”
RELATED: ESPN reports on NFL PA study on grass safety versus turf
Smart said economics are also involved, as UGA spent $1.36 million sodding and re-sodding its one grass practice field from February of 2022 to February of 2023.
“We’re on it continuously,” Smart said. “Why do we want to practice on grass instead of turf? It’s safer.”
Georgia athletics director Josh Brooks said the school has identified land on S. Milledge Ave. -- just outside of the Athens Loop -- where the future outdoor and indoor track facilities can be built.
“Which would be really neat, because then you’d have almost what I’ve termed in my mind almost an Olympic Village of those sports in that area, so it will be really unique,” Brooks said.
“We have two programs in track and field and football that have had tremendous success .... but with programs that are successful we don’t want to remain stagnant, we want to continue to grow,” he said. “Right now our track facility is not able to host any event of significant size; we had to turn down the SEC meet this year because we don’t have the space around it to truly host it the right way.”
Brooks and Smart noted how Georgia track athletes have to travel to Birmingham, Ala., to run on an indoor track.
Brooks said the next step in the process is for UGA to find an architect. Brooks said it’s too early to provide any sort of timeline or projected costs.
Georgia second-year track and field coach Caryl Smith Gilbert was with her team at a regional meet in Jacksonville, Fla., and could not be present, but she taped a video presentation thanking the school for the support.
“This project will continue to elevate our track and field program to peak in the SEC and NCAA championships,” Smith Gilbert said. “Our own dedicated space off of South Milledge will provide opportunities for our student athletes to train all year long. It will bring young people to our campus to compete at AAU and USA track and field events, and other junior events and will give us an area to host SEC and NCAA championship competitions.
“This will be a true, one of a kind facility, and the only indoor track in the state of Georgia.”
Smart likes the idea of more great track athletes -- some of whom play football -- coming to Georgia.
“Since we have been at Georgia, we have had four or five athletes compete in track,” Smart said. “So I have no greater interest in all of our sports than I do in track; that’s the one that directly impacts the football roster the most.”