ST. SIMONS ISLAND — Georgia’s football team has one of the smallest weight rooms in the SEC. Bulldogs football players also don’t have easy parking, so star players move around campus on scooters.
All the while, the program’s rivals, which had indoor facilities and new locker rooms well before Georgia, are continuing to add their own projects. It’s the facilities arms race.
UGA has dipped its toe into it, with the indoor facility ($30.2 million) opening earlier this year, and construction on the Sanford Stadium west end zone project ($63 million for new locker rooms and a recruiting area) beginning this summer.
For now, that will be it. When asked to pinpoint any future projects, McGarity declined.
“Oh, we are totally focused on the west end. We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, all our efforts are west end,” McGarity said. “We’ll talk about that when the west end zone is well underway.”
UGA is spending money on facilities, as McGarity touts regularly. There are additional plans in the queue, the administrators said. UGA president Jere Morehead said they feel they should be able to upgrade tennis facilities “in the relatively near future.” The same goes for helping the equestrian program.
The school’s athletic board was also shown a presentation Thursday that extolled the facilities work that’s been done. It was led by associate AD Josh Brooks, who returned in December after being away three years as an athletic director at small schools in Mississippi and Louisiana. The projects included different sports and venues, including the $30.2 million indoor facility, which was dedicated in February.
“We may have been the last SEC school to do an indoor facility,” Morehead told the board. “But I think we did it better than anybody else.”
The thrust of the board meeting Thursday was counteracting the notion that UGA should be spending more of its reserve funds. One of the backdrops to that is the facilities arms race, where schools like Clemson are spending millions.
Even Florida, where McGarity worked before coming to Georgia, will have spent more than $200 million on facilities since January 2015.
“I agree facilities are a vital part of an athletic program,” McGarity told the board. “And our plan of action over the years and over the coming years will provide the environment to compete at the highest levels of the sport.
“It has become commonplace to refer to facilities school to school as an arms race. The game of comparing one school to another will always be a popular exercise for many. We will always do what we think is best on a sport-by-sport basis for all our teams in order to achieve all of our objectives on the field and in the classroom and the community.”
One criticism of UGA’s approach is that it seems to lack a master plan, an all-encompassing, long-range plan to build facilities. Examples include the $100 million initiative that Florida unveiled last year, or the $200 million plan that South Carolina put together a decade ago.
There is a master plan, McGarity and Morehead insist.
It’s just nine years old.
Back in 2008, then AD Damon Evans and president Michael Adams proposed a long list of projects, which was more of a wish list. Much of it wasn’t adopted right away. In fact, at the time it proposed an indoor facility near where the softball fields are, rather than its current location.
“We’re coming off it now,” McGarity said of that 2008 master plan. “I think we’ve seen it grow from that period of time. We’ve got projects in the queue, and we just basically are able to pick those off as funds become available, and as priorities exist. I mean we’ve had one in place. It’s just not a publicized master plan. But we attack each facility as necessary, and are basically able to take care of those as they develop.”
So what should happen in the future? Jon Stinchcomb, the former Georgia star offensive lineman and a member of the athletic board, would like to hear what Kirby Smart wants. Stinchcomb joked that people would rather hear a wish list from Smart than a “washed-up former player.”
But Stinchcomb does think the idea of a new, or at least revised, master plan would be a good idea.
“I think it’s important to have a general plan of direction for facilities,” Stinchcomb said. “And I also think it’s important to be able to make adjustments and make that plan be malleable enough to where, as need arises, as the landscape changes across athletics, that you can mid-stream adjust, and address the needs that are most prevalent at the time.”