ATHENS – Georgia is set to break ground on its long-awaited indoor athletic facility on Dec. 14. It’s a building that Mark Richt has pined for and quietly lobbied for during his 15-year tenure as head football coach.
But as of this week, with one game left in the regular season, it’s still not a settled question whether Richt will be around to attend that ceremony, much less coach in the gleaming new facility when it’s ready
His bosses continue to be silent on the subject, holding to their policy with all coaches in all seasons. The belief among many close to the situation is that no decision has been made either way, and that Saturday’s game at Georgia Tech will have a big say in it.
The lack of a full-fledged indoor facility has long been as a symbol for critics who think Georgia as an institution doesn’t do enough financially for its football program. Georgia will become the last SEC football program to have one. As defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt put it last year: “(What) they’ve always said is, how important is football to Georgia if they don’t have an indoor practice facility? Well they won’t be able to say that anymore.”
Yes, but not until 2017, when the facility will be ready. In the meantime UGA has loosened the purse strings in other areas as well – but that was after it had a lot of catching up to do with its SEC and some other nearby rivals. And it still spends less than many of its rivals.
Georgia ranked seventh in the SEC in football expenses for the most recent fiscal year (July 2014-June 2015), according to figures provided by schools to the U.S. Department of Education. UGA spent $26,154,335, a figure that includes coaching salaries, as well as pay for other staffers, travel, payments to other schools for games, and other assorted items.
Georgia ranked fourth in the SEC in football revenue reported ($86,718, 115) during the same time span. It’s percentage of expenses and revenue (30.2 percent) was the second-lowest in the SEC, after Tennessee (25.9 percent).
Alabama and Auburn were easily the highest-spending SEC programs, with Alabama reporting over $51 million in football expenses, and Auburn just over $40 million. They were followed by Florida ($37.473 million), South Carolina (31,375 million), Arkansas ($30.795 million) and LSU ($28.639).
Still, Georgia’s spending represented an increase over previous years, due in large part to an improvement in coaching salaries: Richt from $3.2 to $4 million, Pruitt from $800,000 to $1.3 million, and new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer’s $950,000 salary was almost $400,000 more than predecessor Mike Bobo. Most other assistant coaches also received major bumps.
Among relatively nearby schools, Florida State spent more on football ($31.299 million), but Georgia budgeted more this year than Clemson ($24.191 million) and well more than Georgia Tech ($19.682)
Then there was Georgia’s football recruiting budget, which also received a big boost – and has apparently had the desired results this year.
Georgia budgeted $1.34 million for football recruiting in 2015, according to figures provided by UGA through the Open Records Act. That’s up from $717,091 last year, and $581,531 in 2013.
For comparison purposes: Alabama spent $1.275 million on recruiting in 2013, after spending just over $980,000 the previous two years. LSU’s recruiting budget last year was $892,996.
As of this week, Georgia’s upcoming recruiting class ranked sixth nationally in the 247Sports Composite, and third in the SEC. This year’s signing class was fifth, and the year before it was eighth.
Richt was asked Tuesday how long it should take for increased financial spending to take effect.
“I think recruiting’s going extremely well right now, I can tell you that,” Richt said this week, when asked about the increase in spending. “But every time you do something to become more excellent, I think it all over time proves to be important.”
Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity declined to comment on the issue of administrative financial support – as he has with all inquiries this week on the football program.
“We are focused on Tech,” McGarity said. “Sorry.”
There are other areas that UGA has shown an increased commitment this year, namely nutrition. A few years ago Richt and men’s basketball coach Mark Fox had to themselves walk over to the Georgia Conference center to help arrange a training table for their players. But McGarity has helped spearhead the hiring of more nutritionists, and this year the football team has a daily training table.
The coming indoor facility stands as the most dramatic indication of UGA’s renewed financial commitment. After resisting the idea for years, UGA not only decided to go through with it this year but approved a budget of $30.1 million, among the highest ever for such a facility. For weeks visitors to the Butts-Mehre athletic department have been greeted with a sign that has renderings of the facility.
“It’s good to know it’s coming, and it’s exciting to know it’s coming,” Richt said earlier this year, when the renderings were revealed, and McGarity referred to the facility as “transformational.”
Now the question is whether Richt will be around to reap its rewards.