Towers’ Take: Some criticism deserved, but UGA’s McGarity not cheap

Georgia-Greg McGarity
Greg McGarity has asked the UGA's athletic board for more than $54 million out of its reserve fund during his tenure.

ATHENS — Look, I realize it’s cool to bash on Greg McGarity right now. That certainly seems to be the trend judging from commentary I see on my social media feeds. And some of it is justified, at least based on the overall performance of Georgia’s sports teams. I’m sorry, but with the exception of a few Olympic sports, we’re not in the midst of glory days when it comes to this period of UGA athletics.

That said, I can’t get on board with the meme that McGarity is cheap. I certainly can’t when it comes to the facilities arms race that is currently raging full bore throughout the SEC. The Bulldogs are in there slugging it out when it comes spending money on buildings and “stuff.” And they’ve been at it for a while now. But they’ve also had a ways to go.

If you want to point fingers over how Georgia got so far behind with respect to facilities, you’d be better served to direct them toward McGarity’s predecessors. It was during the administration of Damon Evans and his CFO Frank Crumley that the Bulldogs fell behind, in my opinion. UGA has been playing catch-up ever since those guys left.

Think about it: One of McGarity’s first acts as athletic director was to serve as Master of Ceremonies for Georgia’s dedication of the Nalley Multipurpose Facility and the Butts-Mehre expansion project. McGarity, who started in September of 2010, had absolutely nothing to do with that $33 million project, which was dedicated in February of 2011. That deal was a compromise between previous football coach Mark Richt and the athletic administration and board of directors at the time.

You know where that multi-purpose facility is now? In thousands of tiny pieces in a landfill somewhere. It went down when the new $30.2 Indoor Athletic Facility recently went up.

Richt, as we all know, had longed for an indoor facility going back to those first few years he was Georgia’s coach — and, lest we forget, those were very good years. But he was told back then that it was cost-prohibitive and wasn’t feasible — or at least wouldn’t be aesthetically pleasing — based on the athletic association’s campus footprint. The concept was repeatedly struck down by Georgia’s board and its chairman, President Michael Adams.

And lest we forget, Georgia was rolling in the first half of Richt’s tenure. The Bulldogs won their first SEC championship in football in 2002. They won it again in 2005. They played for it in 2003 and should have in 2004, when they finished No. 7 in the country. They had one of the nation’s top recruiting classes (led by quarterback Matt Stafford) in ’06, finished No. 2 nationally in ’07 and opened the 2008 season ranked No. 1.

The point, Georgia was relevant and rolling. In the meantime, Alabama was going through a down period as a program at the same time. The Crimson Tide didn’t register an SEC division title until ’08. UGA as an institution should have been doing whatever it could to sustain and build on that momentum. It needed to strike while the iron was hot.

First, we must remember that Georgia wasn’t doing nothing. That $33 million Butts-Mehre expansion project included much more than the ill-conceived multi-purpose facility. They built new coaches’ offices, expanded the weight room and sports medicine and training areas and renovated the players’ locker rooms. All those improvements have held and are still in use. We are, after all, less than six years removed from their implementation.

But I bring up all this only because that represented the starting line for McGarity. When he arrived, Georgia has just dumped $33 million into its football facility. And he has been told by the administration — and even Richt — that an indoor building is not the greatest priority. Bigger, better other stuff was more important.

In the meantime, McGarity has been endorsing project after project since he showed up on the scene. We all know about the $93 million that UGA has outlaid for football here lately. Now that the indoor facility has been completed — along with the new grass and field-turf fields that accompany it, there might not be a nicer football complex in the league in terms of functionality — Georgia has turned its attention to the West End expansion project at Sanford Stadium.

With expected help from its generous donors, UGA will spend $63 million on new locker rooms and a recruiting lounge and entertainment area behind the west stands. That building, expected to be completed sometime in 2018, is another concept that Richt was unable to hang around long enough to benefit from. He pitched it to McGarity in the winter of 2014 but was fired by the winter of ’15. Either way, though, it was coming.

But there has been a lot of money going out from UGA coffers besides. Georgia’s in the midst of spending $8 million on Stegeman Coliseum improvements. Phase I has been completed and Phase II will include a center-hung scoreboard that will be in place for next season. The Bulldogs have earmarked $8.7 million for improvement projects for UGA’s golf facilities and for women’s soccer. They already spent $12 million on renovating baseball’s Foley Field, with $6 million of that coming from donors. Tennis is next in line with a big project that’s expected to include new indoor courts.

More importantly to you fans, I’m hearing that there’s an announcement forthcoming — possibly as early as this week — on restroom improvements at Sanford Stadium. I can hear your hallelujahs from here!

But truly, that kind of stuff has been going on for a while. In fact, according to budgets that UGA hands out at all its quarterly board meetings, Georgia has approved more money out of its reserve fund each year that McGarity as been AD.

He wouldn’t have been in place when the budget for fiscal year 2011 would have been approved in May of 2010. But since then, McGarity recommended outlays of $7.5 million for 2012, $8.4 million in 2013, $15 million in 2014 and $20.4 million in 2015.

The final numbers aren’t in for 2016 and ‘17, but between new LED boards and restroom projects at Sanford Stadium, the start-up costs on the west end project, money for improvements for golf and soccer, and all the other projects currently in line to get underway, it’s not likely to go down.

Now all those monies didn’t necessarily get withdrawn. For instance, they approved $12 million for ’14 to go toward the baseball stadium renovation, but donors ended up contributing $6 million of that. Same with the Indoor Athletic Facility, in which $15 million was earmarked but not needed because donors ended up coming forth with all the funds required.

Sure, Georgia is hitting up its donors for a lot on these projects, but that’s what colleges do. If you can get your constituents and alums to pay for it, why wouldn’t you? It’s not like those people don’t get something for their generosity. They’re treated princely by athletics for their contributions.

Now as for how things are going in the fields of play, McGarity is probably rooting harder than anybody else for some good things to happen. In fact, on Monday he sent out a rare direct email message to fans and donors lauding the men’s and women’s track teams for their recent fourth- and second-place finishes, respectively, in the National Indoor Championships this past weekend. And he’ll point with pride to Georgia currently being ranked No. 5 in women’s gymnastics and perennially highly-rated programs in golf, tennis, softball and swimming.

But you won’t hear much talk about volleyball, which has been a disaster and is now under the direction of the second coach under his watch. And it’s in the high-profile sports of football, men’s and women’s basketball and baseball that McGarity really needs some good things to happen.

Football just lost to Ole Miss, Tennessee, Florida, Georgia Tech and Vanderbilt in the same season; baseball continues to struggle in its fourth season under his hire, coach Scott Stricklin; and men’s and women’s basketball both missed NCAA Tournament play for the second straight season.

Criticism of McGarity for that is fair. Being cheap is not.

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