ST.SIMONS ISLAND — At the beginning of his astronomical singing career, Elvis Presley belted out a tune by the name of “Money, Honey.”
And that song by the king of rock and roll music would best describe the theme of the annual spring meeting of the University of Georgia Athletic Board, held here Thursday morning at the posh King and Prince Resort.
University president Jere Morehead and director of athletics Greg McGarity, aware that many in Georgia’s football fan base, have been critical of UGA’s reserve fund, wondering why more of it hasn’t been used to finance the previously approved facility projects, including the recently-completed Indoor Practice Facility and the now underway Sanford Stadium West end zone project.
At the last board meeting, in February, Georgia listed just over $67 million in reserves available at the end of fiscal year 2016. Out of that, $21.6 million was put towards the previously approved facility projects. Then $41.7 million was invested in the UGA Foundation at the end of Dec. 2016, leaving $4.7 million in remaining reserves available for the ongoing fiscal year. That reserve money adds up to $46.4 million.
Thus, at Thursday’s board meeting, Morehead and McGarity and other school officials made their points on why keeping a sizable amount of money in the reserve funds is essential while going further to say the administration will not allow reserves, which are set aside in the school’s foundation, to fall below $30 million annually, or to spend more than 4 percent annually on the money that is set aside in the UGA Foundation, which is currently around $34 million.
That money is separate from the reserves held by the athletic association itself, which was about $47 million as of the end of March … money that is available to be used when needed.
In an interview after the board had unanimously approved a fiscal year 2018 budget of $127,590,041 (an increase by more than $4.5 million), Morehead and McGarity met with the small contingent of media on hand, with the UGA president explaining why are they allowing themselves to tap into the foundation reserves now, unlike a year ago, or before.
“Because it finally reached a level where we felt comfortable that we could start pulling from it,” Morehead said. “We were letting it grow and develop as a fund. Now we felt comfortable that we could start tapping into it. And we also need to tap into it, because of revenue not growing as rapidly as expenses in this intercollegiate athletic environment that we’re in today. We’re looking for new sources of revenue, which is why we’re out fundraising so much.”
Morehead emphasized that the university is still depending on donors to provide $53 million out of the $63 million budget for the Sanford Stadium west end zone project. “We’re depending on our donors to pay for that project, or else our position changes dramatically,” he said. “We need that project to be funded by our donor base so then we can move on to other projects.”
McGarity, in an earlier question from a board member as to Georgia’s athletic department being on a much sounder footing than some other Power 5 programs, commented, “I think you’re right. That is the situation a lot of institutions are in now. Their reserves have either been depleted or their debt service is so high that future occupants of the athletic director’s chair is going to make it tough 20-30 years out. I think it’s a story that’s not very popular in college athletics. It’s a great story.”
McGarity, in his annual athletic director’s report to the board, pointed to the success of many UGA athletic teams this school year while likewise acknowledging the improvement that has to be made in a number of the Bulldogs’ primary sports.
“The responsibility to enhance our strengths and address our deficiencies lands on my desk,” McGarity said. “I know our program is not reaching its full potential.
“Our stated goal is extremely ambitious of having every one of our sports competing in their national (tournament),” he said. “To date, 16 of our 21 sports did just that. As in every year, some teams met and exceeded their expectations. Some experienced uncharacteristic results. Eight of our 21 teams finished among the top 10.
“I feel confident that you will see marked improvement in numerous sports in the near, if not immediate, future,” McGarity said. “Administratively we continue to be committed to providing the resources necessary to make that happen, and the fiscal year 2018 budget will reflect those commitments.
“Our institution is a very birthplace of higher education in this country,” McGarity concluded. “We have a legacy unlike any other. We have a college town unlike any other. So many have committed to the G. And we are now asking everyone who believes in all the good that Georgia does, not only throughout our state, but around the country, to commit to Georgia. Let us not be distracted by those who attempt to divide us. We must be united and stronger than ever before to help move our athletic program forward.”
In his post-meeting remarks to the media, Morehead, commenting on the new legislation that Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal just signed that allows football fans to take their guns to tailgates at UGA games, said he wasn’t in favor of it but is resigned to it now being the law.
“My concerns about campus carry (of guns) have been well-articulated over the last several years,” Morehead said. “But we’ve got a law that’s now in place and we’re going to do our best to fully comply with the law and make sure it’s done in a safe and careful manner, and that’s our focus right now.”
The revised campus carry legislation that Deal signed still prohibits guns from being carried in many areas of campus, such as athletic events, dorms, faculty and administrative offices. But tailgating is not covered, the University System of Georgia has confirmed.
McGarity said steps are already being put in place for fans’ access to Sanford Stadium this fall, so the ongoing renovation of the West end zone, where the Bulldogs’ new dressing room will be located, won’t be an obstacle to the UGA fans entering the stadium.
“We will have a very detailed communication plan in the areas of the west end zone prior to the season,” he said. “There will be gate access there, there will be temporary restrooms and concession stands. But those will be communicated quite frequently leading up to the Appalachian State game.”
At the closing of the media session, McGarity was asked the status of the struggling Georgia baseball program and head coach Scott Stricklin, who has posted four consecutive losing seasons in his time at the Bulldog helm. The athletic director wouldn’t bite. “We’re just talking about board information here today, we’ll talk about that stuff later,” McGarity replied.
However, Stricklin has reportedly told the Athens Banner-Herald that he will be coming back for his fifth season at Georgia next spring.