Next GSU AD’s focus needs to be on money

Of all the skills the next athletic director at Georgia State will need to have to run a multi-million dollar department with dozens of employees, perhaps the most important will be an ability to bring in cash.

Like most, the university’s athletic department needs money and one of the next athletic director’s tasks will be to lead the effort to find it and use it wisely.

“The athletic director job is a huge job,” university president Mark Becker said when describing the scope of the responsibilities.

Becker likes the leadership demonstrated by Cheryl Levick, who will move from athletic director to a special assistant to Becker on July 1. The men’s basketball team, men’s golf and women’s tennis teams were conference champs this year on her watch.

Fundraising has dramatically improved since she arrived in 2009 and football started in 2010. 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.

Levick has guided the school, which included moving from FCS to FBS, to an important point.

“The new athletic director has to continue to push forward with identifying and motivating grads and boosters to donate money and be active in our program,” said J. Allen Poole, president of the Panther Athletic Club board.

Some of that momentum will come from improving the facilities, which will cost money, lots of it. It’s no secret that most of Georgia State’s facilities lag far behind others in the Sun Belt.

The proposal to buy the Turner Field complex is designed to fix some of those problems. It includes a plan to repurpose the Braves’ home into a stadium for football, soccer and track, and has an estimated price tag of $300 million. That idea, which also includes building a baseball stadium in a parking lot adjacent to Turner Field, is only a portion of the estimated costs. Even if the costs are less than $50 million and the university is able to pay for part of it, any remaining portion is still a lot of money to raise for an athletic department with an annual budget of $26 million, $18 million of which comes from mandatory student fees.

“Fundraising has been a challenge, but not an impossibility,” Levick said. “Our progress has been tremendous. It will get easier because fans see the vision and donors see the connection and are ready to put money to keep programs going forward.”

So, while Becker, conference commissioner Karl Benson and former football coach Bill Curry also correctly talk about the vast array of leadership skills that will be needed, money – raising it and investing back into the coaches, teams and experiences for the fans – is what will keep everyone happy.

“The development piece is always a major component, a critical component that the role the athletic director plays in the development plan,” Benson said. “I think you are always looking for a proven development person.”

The Turner Field proposal is still more of a dream than a reality. Work is already being done on three more projects that the next athletic director will inherit.

Under Levick, athletics is working to raise money to construct a strength and conditioning facility for the football team. Slightly less than $1 million of an estimated need of $2 million to build is in hand. Football coach Trent Miles desperately wants the strength and conditioning facility to help his current players and to keep up with others in the Sun Belt in the recruiting battles.

Efforts are also being made to raise money to renovate a building to construct new practice courts for men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball. Money is also being raised to construct a new academic center to service all of the athletes is wanted. Neither the practices courts nor the academic center have received any money, but there are several “asks” out and Georgia State is confident that there will be some money coming soon.

Men’s basketball coach Ron Hunter wants those renovations for the same reason as Miles.

“We go into some of the other Sun Belt arenas, my kids look like they are in the movie ‘Hoosiers,’ ‘My God, this is nice’,” Hunter said. “When we play at home, we have the best experience in the league. But I need to get the ‘Hoosiers’ experience off their faces.”

The good news for the next athletic director: most of their energy can be focused on fund-raising.

“Next person that comes in will have the luxury of an established basketball program and a football program that is positioned and poised to be successful,” Benson said.

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