Is UGA’s athletics program too focused on football?

The UGA football program already is moving in to its new extension at Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall in Athens. (Tony Walsh/UGA)
Tony Walsh

There’s no denying football pays the bills for UGA athletics, but it’s also the chief beneficiary of the school’s sports spending.

In fact, the athletic association has been on a bit of a football spending spree of late, with more than $173 million spent on facility upgrades since 2017, including the renovation of the west end of Sanford Stadium, the new indoor practice facility, and completion of Phase 1 of the new $80 million football building added to the Butts-Mehre complex. And, there are more plans in the works.

While that kind of support for Kirby Smart’s program is a popular notion in a largely gridiron-focused Bulldog Nation, some Dawgs fans would like to see the nonrevenue sports getting a little more financial love.

The issue has been highlighted recently by word that Petros Kyprianou, the national championship-winning coach of the men’s and women’s track and field teams, probably is leaving UGA when his contract runs out at the end of June, because the athletic department won’t commit to building a new indoor track facility.

That’s on the mind of the first Blawg reader we hear from in the latest edition of Junkyard Mail. …

“Bill, This latest move (or lack of one) by new athletic director Josh Brooks, letting one of the nation’s best and most successful track and field coaches get away because they don’t want to take a penny away from football to build a proper track facility, is appalling. Along with allowing the Georgia basketball program to continue to languish at least another season in the ineffectual hands of Tom Crean, because they want to wait for his buyout amount to drop, it sends a strong but unfortunate message: UGA cares only about its football program and facilities. I know a lot of Dawgs fans probably couldn’t care less about track and field and are happy as long as Kirby gets what he wants, but I’d like to know if you’re as bothered by this as I am.”

— Scott Burns

I recognize that Brooks inherited an athletic program lacking in much strategic facilities planning, other than football (where UGA has done a great job of catching up with other major programs over the past 10 years).

However, I do think letting Kyprianou walk over the lack of track facilities is a bit shortsighted.

Matthew Boling competes for UGA this past week in the NCAA eastern preliminaries. (University of Georgia)
University of Georgia, Dawgnation

As I noted at the top of this Blawg, football does generate most of the athletic association’s revenue (basketball was the only other sport to turn a profit last year), and you have to spend money in order to stay competitive with football programs like Alabama. But, if you’re going to have the sort of overall elite athletic program expected of a state’s flagship university, you have to keep up with the needs of your other sports, too.

Brooks’ staff revealed at the athletic board meeting this past week that the sports medicine and equipment spaces being abandoned at the Butts-Mehre building as the football program moves into its new operations center will be turned over to UGA’s track and field teams. But, that’s really only nibbling around the edges of what Kyprianou has said his program needs, if it’s going to continue to recruit elite track and field athletes.

He wants an indoor track facility capable of hosting major tournaments, like the NCAA championships. The current outdoor track on Lumpkin Street, which the team shares with the rest of the university, is not suitable for such events.

What’s most baffling is UGA’s apparent intransigence on the issue. Kyprianou is not asking the athletic association to pony up the $10 million to $30 million it would take to build an indoor facility right away. He just wants a commitment that, at some point, they’ll build it.

Coach Petros Kyprianou’s men’s and women track and field teams at UGA have been among the nation’s most successful. (University of Georgia)
University of Georgia, Dawgnation

Speaking to the Athens Banner-Herald this week from Jacksonville, where his teams were competing in the NCAA preliminaries, Kyprianou said: “I just needed a written commitment that we’re going to break ground at some point, whether it’s three years, five years, seven years, eight years. Something that will give me the peace of mind that I can recruit and tell the current student-athletes.

“We won a lot, but it gets to the point where you’ve got to keep up with your competitors,” Kyprianou said. “Every sport on campus has their own facility where they can train uninterrupted. Every single one of them except track. Josh knows. Josh is a great administrator. It is what it is at this point. He understands. He knows it. There are priorities and there are things he has to do. I understand. Track is not always a priority.”

Brooks said this week that he doesn’t want “to overcommit,” but he does want to “start putting together a strategic vision of where our facilities are going to go for the next five to seven years.”

OK, so why not give Kyprianou the sort of long-range commitment that he says he’s willing to accept? Instead, you let one of your most successful coaches go elsewhere? I’m sorry, but that’s mind-boggling.

Now, back to football with a question about the season-opener against Clemson in Charlotte …

The UGA ticket office will send mobile ticketing process tutorials via email to season ticketholders. (Georgia Bulldog Club)
Georgia Bulldog Club, Dawgnation

“Bill: Can you tell all Dawg fans which side of the Bank of America Stadium is the ‘Georgia’ side? I am trying to buy tickets online and have searched, but cannot find the answer to this question. Thanks!”

— Jaxlawdawg

UGA athletics spokesman Claude Felton answers: “The tickets we were allotted are on the south side.”

Next, another ticket-related question …

“Bill, will I get an email or text before the season sending me to a URL where I can download the tickets to my smartphone? If so, will I download the whole season’s worth of tickets at once, or week by week? And, if I want to sell or give away my tickets, can I just text or email them to someone as an attachment? Please excuse my ignorance, but I’ve never dealt with digital tickets before, and I don’t have a millennial in the household to educate me!”

— Uptown Dawg

Here’s the UGA ticket office’s response:

“Yes, the ticket office will send an email to address on record with notification that tickets are available to access and save to smart device. This will occur by mid-August. Entire season tickets or individual tickets may be downloaded by clicking on the email link at that time and tickets may be transferred to someone else. The ticket office will send mobile ticketing process tutorials via email as well as postings on the ticket office home webpage leading up to ticket distribution. Also, the ticket office is available to answer specific questions about the process during normal business hours at 877-542-1231.”

And, they also provided a link to additional information on the ticket office’s homepage:

https://georgiadogs.com/sports/2020/8/18/digital-tickets.aspx

Here’s a question related to last week’s Blawg about the Georgia-Clemson series …

“Hey Bill, thanks for all the great articles! The Clemson-/UGA [game] in Anderson [South Carolina] in 1916 was an interesting reveal. With this year’s game in North Carolina, wondering if any others can claim they have played a rivalry game in three different states?”

— Keith Cheek

Interesting question! I don’t know the answer, but, since many rivalry games are either in-state affairs, or feature bordering states, with the schools alternating being the home team, I’d say Georgia and Clemson playing in three different states is highly unusual, if not unique. Perhaps some football history savant out there can tell us whether anyone else has done that.

High-profile players like Zamir White can cash in on their own name, image and likeness, thanks to a new Georgia law taking effect July 1. (Tony Walsh/UGA)
Tony Walsh, Dawgnation

“Bill, you sure know how to spark enthusiasm for the upcoming Dawgs-Tigers matchup, and I hope that in future years that optimistic enthusiasm is still the norm, and not overshadowed by transfer portal news or NIL agreements. But, I fear that college football has just entered an era of commercialization that is a breeding ground for corruption and student athlete dissent. Question: What are the limitations if any on corporate recruiting of local athletes to keep them for the home team or to lure them to a major market? What about agents and legal representation of student athletes? Will parents have signed monetary agreements binding their child to a particular institution while in junior high? And can a team survive, monetarily divided, with the perception that the popular players (skilled position) mostly benefit while the in the trenches player toils in anonymity?”

— Tony Tyson

Right now, there’s not much clarity about legislation that has been passed in some states (including Georgia) allowing college athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness. So far, the NCAA has been sitting this one out, in hopes that some sort of overriding federal legislation might pass. In the meantime, UGA has signed up with a firm called Altius Sports Partners, which helps athletes with the education process on what the new rules mean, and how they can benefit from it when Georgia’s law takes effect July 1.

Georgia’s law does give schools the option of requiring that student-athletes contribute earnings to a pool that would be shared with teammates when they graduate, but UGA has said it does not plan on implementing such a rule (which might put it at a recruiting disadvantage against schools in states where that is not done).

As for whether teams might suffer from less celebrated players not being able to make as much NIL money as their star teammates, I tend to doubt it. It’s not like all players on a team were on the same level before this. There always have been stars and nonstars; teams are made up of scholarship players and walk-ons, future pro prospects, and those who never will play the game again after college, and yet they all have the same goal: win the game. Unless that somehow changes, I don’t see the ability of some players to sell their autographs or make endorsements as becoming a team-killer.

UGA News

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