The University of Georgia Athletic Association Board of Directors held its Winter meeting Tuesday to discuss both financial and athletic matters. Like the past two board meetings, Tuesday’s gathering was held as an online video conference because of social restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The hour-long meeting was the first for Josh Brooks since becoming the J. Reid Parker Director of Athletics on Jan. 6. His report took a prominent place on the agenda today. Among the many topics he covered included the following:
• The 87 percent current Graduation Success Rate for all UGA teams.
• The successful completion of fall seasons, despite challenges posed by the global COVID-19 pandemic, by the UGA football, soccer, volleyball and cross country seasons.
• The nationally competitive teams that UGA his produced thus far in this academic year, including 14 of 21 earning a Top 15 ranking in their respective sports, and will increase to 16 of 21 when the last two (men’s & women’s outdoor track & field) get their seasons underway.
• The absence of any major NCAA infractions by UGA programs this year, a by-product of a thorough educational effort by the Compliance office.
• An update on the Butts-Mehre expansion and renovation project, which is proceeding on time and on budget. Phase One of this project is due for completion in late April, with the UGA football program set to begin its move-in process then. Brooks noted that the Development office has raised $71.5 million of the $80 million needed to complete the project.
• The budget deficit for Fiscal year 2021 is projected now to be approximately $30 million, much less than the $55 million shortfall originally predicted. This is due to a combination of successful fundraising efforts — $22.1 million were converted into the COVID-19 UGA Athletics Fund — and a 27 percent reduction in operating expenses through last December.
• The establishment of UGA’s internal Diversity, Equity & Inclusion program, which has begun 16 programs or initiatives since the summer of 2020. This program is headed by Dr. Courtney Gay, Assistant Athletic Director.
• The introduction of TopGolf Live to fans for nine days in June of 2021. Sanford Stadium will be transformed into an immersive golf experience that enables players to hit golf balls toward targets placed at various distances from the tee box.
• Recognition for all UGA staff who have contributed to the Association’s coping with the COVID-19 pandemic since last March. In particular, Brooks noted the role played by director of Sports Medicine Ron Courson, who was recently promoted to Executive Associate Athletic Director. ‘’It cannot be overstated just how valuable Ron has been to the department,” Brooks said.
Other highlights of the meeting included:
• A comprehensive financial report by Treasurer Ryan Nesbit.
• Reports from student representatives Caroline Chipman (UGA soccer player), Kearis Jackson (UGA football player) and Tori Ector (non-athlete student rep). Topics covered by the students included the many initiatives by the Georgia Way program, such as career preparation, community service and mental health resources. Ector reported feedback on the student ticket distribution plan from the 2020 football season, as well as the role played by UGA Athletics in student voting efforts last fall.
• A glowing academic report from Faculty Athletics Representative, Prof. David Shipley. Highlights of Shipley’s report included:
The combined grade point average for Fall Semester for all UGA student-athletes, men and women, was a 3.14. That figure, which includes 554 student-athletes, is believed to be an all-time record for Fall term and the second-highest GPA for any single semester.
Shipley said that Fall grades are historically lower than Spring because first-year students are making the transition to higher education. Thus, the overall academic performance by UGA student-athletes was particularly strong last Fall.
Ten of UGA’s 11 women’s teams — led by the golfers at 3.57 — had GPAs above 3.00. Five of eight men’s teams were over the 3.00 mark, topped by the cross country team at 3.376.
Shipley also noted a marked increase in average semester hours taken by student-athletes last fall. The effect of such an increase, should it continue into future semesters, would result in improved graduation rates.
Following are brief comments from J. Reid Parker Director of Athletics Josh Brooks after the meeting:
Q. Financially, where do you think you are, in terms of weathering the pandemic?
A. ’’I can’t imagine, with what we were facing, handling it any better than we did, being able to recoup that money from our donors stepping up and helping, but also by managing our expenses. There were a lot of tough conversations, a lot of tough decisions made that were important. I’m proud of that fact, where we are now, and hopefully we can stay this course and even reduce that $30 million deficit even more.’’
Q. What’s the anticipation for fall football season? Will it include full capacity at football stadiums?
A. ’’We’ve got to be ready for all scenarios. We’ve learned that we can pivot quickly, so I think the first step is, we’re gonna plan as if we’re going to have full stadiums. We’re going to be ready. We can’t commit to a budget right now until we know where we sit next fall. So we’re gonna have to play a lot of that by ear. But we’ve proven that we can pivot quickly, so the plan is to have full stadiums and then we’ll adjust from there. But there’s not going to be a situation where we can guarantee any budgeted amount because we just don’t know. We’ve got to plan for the best and we can adjust from there.’’