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The good and bad of the GSU AD job



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Georgia State President Mark Becker is looking for a new athletic director.

The list of interested parties should be fairly lengthy for a lot of reasons, some of which I’ve listed:

The Good

Turner Field proposal: The two jewels in this $300 million proposal are a repurposing of the Braves’ home of Turner Field into a multi-use stadium for football, soccer and track, as well as a new baseball stadium that will be constructed in an adjacent parking lot.

The shaping of this project is one of the reasons that another athletic director is needed.

Outgoing athletic director Cheryl Levick wanted to pursue teaching opportunities and deal with a non-life threatening issue. She didn’t want to commit to the five-to-seven years needed to accomplish this project.

Becker needs someone to guide the technical aspects of what will be needed in both stadiums. Presumably, he will need someone to help raise some of the funds to build those stadiums.

For both Becker and whoever is the next a.d., this project is a legacy-definer and for that special someone, the biggest carrot for this job.

Winning men’s basketball team: The win-loss records of two sports can affect the job security of an athletic director: football and, to a lesser extent, men’s basketball. We will get to the first in a few minutes.

As for men’s basketball, the team has posted two of the best records in school history since Levick hired Run Hunter. Next year, could be even better than last year, when the team went 17-1 in the Sun Belt and won the conference’s regular-season title.

Transfers are the lifeblood and eventually Hunter will need to develop high school signees from Atlanta, but the present looks solid.

Spring sports doing well: The university just had one of the best spring seasons in school history. Men’s golf and women’s tennis won Sun Belt championships. While some of the talent (Tyler Gruca and Abigail Tere-Apisah) on those teams will graduate, there is still talent there to keep things going.

Baseball struggled in its first season in the Sun Belt, but Greg Frady has shown he can win.

GPA and GSR: The teams have posted an average GPA of 3.0 for 12 consecutive semesters. Athletics had the highest GSR in the Sun Belt.

Improvement in football: It’s true the team went 0-12 last year. However, it was competitive in many games and features a lot of underclassmen who contributed to last year’s progress. If coach Trent Miles can get a little lucky this year and his team stays injury free, the wins will come.

In Atlanta: The city/region is home to Fortune 500 companies and some of the best high school talent across all DI sports. It has fantastic private schools, museums, theaters, amusement parks, golf, an international airport, shopping malls, a kick-butt major newspaper, unique restaurants and enough quirks to always be interesting.

Salary: The current base salary of the position is almost $300,000, with other allowances and reachable bonuses that can push it closer to $400,000. It can be argued that this, not Turner Field, is the carrot.

Alumni: The university says it has more than 100,000 alumni in the metro Atlanta region. Not 1,000. Not 10,000. More than 100,000 chances for donations, to sell tickets, to buy merchandise, to wear gear, etc.

Bad

Turner Field proposal/facilities: The Turner Field project may be too big for some to want to supervise. And this may be the most important: the land isn’t even for sale and there are other interested parties.

If Georgia State isn’t able to purchase the land, the university must for the umpteenth time try to figure out a way to bring its teams closer from Panthersville to campus, which would theoretically improve interest and revenue through ticket and merchandise sales. It is a puzzle that no one has been able to solve because around 20 acres of land is needed, which is hard to find downtown and when can be found will be expensive for sports that likely won’t be able to recoup the financial investment.

That’s just the majority of the non-revenue sports.

There has been a plan to renovate basketball’s home in the Sports Arena, but only the locker rooms have been done. There is a plan to renovate a nearby building to turn into practice courts, but there is no money in hand.

Football has a beautiful practice facility, but it needs a strength-and-conditioning facility to go along with it to improve recruiting efforts. Slightly less than half of the needed $2 million is in hand.

Lack of funds: As you can tell, fund-raising hasn’t matched the dreams of the department. That’s not a knock on Levick or her predecessors. Before starting football, there weren’t too many highlights in the entire athletic department’s history. Few highlights to sell, few dollars coming in.

On top of that, before the school got serious about football, its athletic department was operating with in my opinion a 1950s model and mindset.

With the addition of football, and then the move from the CAA and FCS to the Sun Belt and FBS, they had to move into the ever-evolving modern era very quickly. It’s hard to improve everything at once, particularly when so much needed to be done to a brand that lacks cache in Atlanta.

But Levick will leave the department in a better place than she arrived. Is it as good as others want it to be? No. But it is what it is…

From a story that appeared in Wednesday’s paper: Annual giving in 2009 was at $33,942 for the 2009 fiscal year, according to the university. With a month remaining in the 2014 fiscal year, annual giving is more than $500,000. Major gifts earmarked for football in 2009 total $663,637. It will be nearly $1.6 million in 2014.

A back-of-the-envelope estimate of how much money is needed to meet all needs, pre-Turner Field proposal, would be around $50 million. That’s $30 million to renovate the Sports Arena and $20 million for the proposed academic advisement center, the strength-and-conditioning facility and moving Panthersville to other locations closer to campus.

It can be done.

Georgia State’s budget is $26 million annually, so $50 million is less than a 2-to-1 ratio on debt to revenue. I don’t know the total value of Georgia State’s assets, which is another important factor.

Georgia Tech’s annual budget was slightly more than $50 million when it gradually took on almost three times that amount if memory serves in (mostly) bond debt to build or improve facilities.

Of course, Tech gets more TV and tournament money from the ACC than Georgia State will get from the Sun Belt. It also has more valuable assets. Plus, Tech has a more-proven history of ticket sales for football and men’s basketball. It may not be as much as the school wants or others in the conference get, but it it’s still there.

Football still needs to win: The rising tide that can lift all boats is football. If it starts consistently winning, ticket sales and revenues will increase, merchandise will be sold, more media space will be claimed, donations should come in and things will feel better.

So, football needs that $1 million sooner rather than later to finish that strength-and-conditioning facility.

Academic standards: This isn’t necessarily a bad, but it does affect Georgia State’s ability to compete. As it stands right now, Georgia State has higher academic requirements for incoming freshmen than do the other DI schools in the state. Unlike Georgia Tech, which recently gave coach Paul Johnson some wiggle room on the NCAA’s freshman entrance requirements, Georgia State doesn’t allow exceptions. It is noble, but it also limits the pool of recruits that the university’s coaches can draw from.

In Atlanta: The plusses of Atlanta mentioned earlier are also its negatives. There’s so much to do in the city that if you are Georgia State, you’ve got to do something extraordinary, or create some sort of better-than-average experience, to keep people coming. Winning is just a part of the formula.

That’s one of the reasons why I’m currently more interested in learning more about the team playing in Arthur Blank’s new stadium, rather than playing in a re-purposed Turner Field. I reason that seeing Blank’s new stadium might bring more new faces and new money to Georgia State than in Ben Moore Field (my made-up name for the new stadium).

I understand that the Georgia Dome is nice, but not ideal. I recognize, and have written many times, about the attendance issues in the sterile Georgia Dome, where a few thousand look like a few hundred. Blank’s new stadium is supposed to incorporate technology to curtain off the top deck, which will make things seem more cozy.

And losing doesn’t help.

But there are costs to consider.

Playing in the Georgia Dome or Blank’s new stadium will likely be on par or possibly cheaper than the annual maintenance costs on a new Ben Moore Field, and much less than the initial cost of repurposing Turner Field.  For example, Georgia Tech’s annual maintenance expenses for Grant Field, which is older and has natural grass, are around $800,000. Seven home games in the Georgia Dome, at a cost of $75,000, is $525,000. This isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison, just a guideline. There are many other financial factors to consider, such as if Georgia State will get the same type of lease in Blank’s new stadium.

Alumni: As noted, there are more than 100,000 Georgia State alumni in the metro Atlanta area. So, where are most of them? Few come to the football games: an announced average attendance of 15,577 last year. The actual attendance was half that.

Despite its success, the men’s basketball team had one sell out in its 3,834-seat arena. Granted, it was the first in more than 24 years.

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