GREENSBORO — The Georgia Athletic Association board of directors approved a record $143.3 million budget on Friday. And it’s a good thing, because costs are going through the roof, particularly when it comes to football.
Among the line items in the 2019 budget, approved by unanimous vote at the spring meeting here at the Ritz-Carlton Lodge on Lake Oconee, was a football compensation expenditure of $9,418,877. That’s the cost of paying coach Kirby Smart his new $6.6 million salary plus the salaries of all of the members of the ever-growing football support staff. The figure is almost twice what UGA paid in football salaries the previous year ($4.985 million).
“It’s all relative to college athletics now,” Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity said after the meeting.
Georgia’s football operations budget for 2019 is $35.2 million, up $7.8 million from 2018. That includes a $2.265 million outlay for recruiting travel.
There also is a new line item buried within. It’s $1.8 million, which is the new federal excise tax that is being assessed on nonprofits that pay employees more than $1 million in salary. So, Georgia is now being assessed a 21 percent tax rate on anything over that amount that it pays coaches. Currently, that is on three individuals: Smart, basketball coach Tom Crean ($3.2 million) and football defensive coordinator Mel Tucker ($1.5 million).
The federal excise tax was part of a legislative package passed last year that also will eliminate donations to athletic departments to buy tickets.
“I understand the theory behind passing the legislation [to discourage excessive salaries], but I’m not sure in the current marketplace that it’s going to achieve its goal,” UGA President Jere Morehead said. “So far, it has not.”
So, while college athletics has more money than ever coming in, it has more than ever going out as well. Georgia is spending more money than ever to take care of student-athletes, including cost-of-attendance supplements, training table and other services.
“Fortunately, we’re able to do so much more for our student-athletes than we used to do,” McGarity said. “I’d say other than salaries and support services that we need to keep the engine running, what we’re spending on our student-athletes has been truly transformative. That’s not really being talked about. There are certain things we’re able to do that they’re not able to do on a lot of other campuses.”
Case in point would be what UGA is doing in the area of behavioral health. Ron Courson, Georgia’s director of sports medicine, and his staff gave a 40-minute presentation on the health services they’re providing student-athletes in the area of behavioral assessment and treatment. The Bulldogs now employ a doctor of psychiatry, two clinical psychologists and a social worker. They’re seeking to add at least one more professional to the team.
Last year, that team had “895 encounters,” not counting group meetings, and treated 130 individuals, according to Courson.
“It’s something we’ve been trying to put a great deal of emphasis on,” Courson said. “We’re hoping to add another licensed social worker and other professionals. We’re excited about what we’ve done so far, but we’re really excited about what else we can do to get better.”
In addition to coaching compensation and student-athlete services, the Bulldogs have stepped up their pace considerably in terms of facility improvements. Football is at the end of a three-year period in which it has spent $93 million on construction projects with the Payne Indoor Athletic Facility and $63 million for a locker room and recruiting lounge addition at Sanford Stadium that is due for completion at the end of June.
Board treasurer Ryann Nesbitt reported that Georgia has received $50.6 million in gifts and pledges toward those projects, including $25.1 million in cash collections.
Indications are that a new weight room and additional meeting rooms and coaches’ offices will added to the Butts-Mehre Football Complex over the next year. Georgia also recently did $8 million in improvements on Stegeman Coliseum, completed a $4.2 million construction project to expand the Boyd Golf Center, expanded its equestrian facilities, and completed a study that showed plans to renovate the Dan Magill Tennis Complex and build a six-court indoor facility will cost a minimum of $23 million.
“So we have committed a lot of money to improvements, and will continue to,” McGarity said.
The athletic association also donated $4.5 million to UGA’s general fund as it has done annually for the last several years.
“It certainly has benefited the institution in supporting student scholarships in particular as well as the creation of professorships,” Morehead said. “I think it has been mutually beneficial. The escalating cost of running a top Division I athletic program certainly creates challenges, but we appreciate we’ve been able to maintain that level of consistent support.”
Accordingly, Georgia’s new budget represented a $15.8 million increase over last year.
Several members of the board asked McGarity if there were any concerns that the lucrative revenue stream that has been provided the SEC in recent years because of its network arrangement with ESPN might regress in the future. It has been well-publicized that the television behemoth known as the “worldwide network” has been experiencing financial trouble in recent years because of decreases in cable-television subscriptions.
“We think our revenue stream will continue to grow,” McGarity said. “Whether they’re consuming the products from Hulu or whatever, the content is still being distributed and ESPN is retaining the rights for that. There are so many different platforms, but ESPN is still part of the package.”