Georgia unveiled their new $31 million Indoor Athletic Facility (IAF) to the media this morning in order to continue their publicity campaign for the project. After seemingly 15 years of planning and then another 15 months of construction, UGA has finally become the last member of the Southeastern Conference (SEC) to make the facilities upgrade. This is just the latest sign of not only a culture change in the Georgia football program, but a peek into the absurdity of the Cold War-esque arms race occurring in college football.
The IAF is what I would describe as college football’s “trickle down effect.” What that means is: no, the $31 million investment may not pay immediate dividends, but it shows the ushering in of a mindset where winning is the priority. Kirby Smart was hired at Georgia to set that change into motion, combatting the shortcomings of his predecessor – stagnation, reeling enthusiasm, and ultimately, lack of hardware.
When the athletic department succeeds, the academia of the school also succeeds. Yes, the donation apportionment by some alumni and benefactors can be a bit convoluted and skewed towards athletics, but it is their money and can be spent where they like. In 2015, University turned nearly a $150 million profit on the athletic budget alone. Although, football, basketball, and gymnastics were the only sports to break even, this still allowed for 10% (almost $15 million) to be re-allocated back into the school’s general fund.
The athletic director can be most accurately compared, structurally and stylistically, to the general manager/owning partner of a professional sports team. Most of the final say on financial matters of the organization will run through that single point of contact.
With that being said, there are two types of owners in the world of professional sports – profit maximizing and win maximizing. Profit maximizing owners are those that attempt to pocket as much of the team’s revenue as possible. Win maximizing owners are those that reinvest their revenues back into the team in order to win more games/championships.
First and foremost, winning in college football comes down to monetarily competing with the best programs in the non-game aspects, starting with recruiting. It is the ability to provide the best game day experience possible (part of the reason the athletic department just invested $63 million yesterday into a locker room expansion for Sanford Stadium). It is the showcasing of the best facilities, the constant communication from one of the country’s best coaching staffs, the sense of community the campus atmosphere is able to provide. These are all examples of the little things Georgia has failed to do well.
Georgia Athletic Director Greg McGarity has often been criticized many times for being a “profit maximizing” figure. But, in the words of Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, “Losing is always more expensive than winning.”
I have cited this as a reason for Georgia’s lack of ability to consistently compete nationally over the last decade. It really is hard to get angry at a team that is allocating the 10-15th most money on assistants (aggregate estimate since 2000), spending the 10-15th most time in recruiting, and having the 10-15th best facilities in the country and is finishing…10-15th in the polls.
When your team is a perennial power, the ability to generate increased revenue becomes exponential. Ticket prices increase, hotel prices go up, parking becomes more expensive, donations frequency and amount skyrockets, concession sales jump. It is all part of a front end investment to get the correct coaches to recruit the country’s best players. The best players win games and winning games puts people in Athens, in Sanford Stadium, and physically, emotionally, and monetarily invested in Georgia football.
Kirby Smart with a little help from his previous contemporary, Jeremy Pruitt, appear to be the impetus that Georgia needed to monetarily compete with the schools that are consistently competing for national championships. After all, isn’t that why he was hired in the first place?