UGA Athletics will participate in any state furloughs

Georgia Athletic Association administrators and employees were breathing a sigh of relief Thursday after state house and senate leaders approved a budget that will not require mandatory furloughs.

The state approved a $26 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2021, which begins Wednesday. That includes $2.2 billion in cuts in anticipation of revenue declines because of the coronavirus pandemic. But that’s actually much better than expected.

At one point, state leaders were suggesting a 14% furlough rate for state employees. Gov. Brian Kemp recently reduced that figure to 10%, but that still would require more than two weeks of unpaid leave for Georgia’s higher-paid employees, including football coach Kirby Smart and men’s basketball coach Tom Crean.

“That’s why we don’t panic and do things until something becomes official,” UGA Athletic Director Greg McGarity said Thursday. “We were just waiting to see what the state government said.”

McGarity told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution earlier Thursday that the school’s privately funded athletic department would participate in any furlough actions that might be required of the university by the University System of Georgia. The Board of Regents, which oversees the USG, still could suggest furloughs in order to meet tighter budgets.

The regents introduced a 10% furlough model in May that has been circulating through state agencies. It calls for a five-tiered approach that includes 16-day unpaid for employees that earn $154,000 or more in base salary and decreases down to zero days for those earning less than $33,475.

In that scenario, Smart and most of Georgia's coaches in all sports would be required not to work for 16 days. The athletic association has about 300 full-time employees.

“What we all have to remember is we’re all part of the university,” McGarity said. “We’re structured differently, of course, but the majority of our staff is enrolled in the teacher’s retirement system and in the university’s insurance program. So while we don’t receive any state funds, we are part of the university as far as the benefits plan.”

There is precedent. In August 2009, all state universities were required to furlough employees for FY 2010 because of budget constraints caused by the recession. UGA Athletics participated alongside the university then, too.

UGA came up with specific furlough dates for the entire institution. However, it gave the coaches the latitude to take off different days if they conflicted with games or preparation, which they did in October and November that fall.

On their own, the Bulldogs could easily weather an economic storm. The Georgia Athletic Association currently has $102 million in reserve funds, about $65 million of which is unallocated. UGA Athletics also donated $5 million to the university, following its pattern of making an annual donation. In May, the board of directors approved a $149.4 million budget.

“In athletics, we try to be like everyone else on campus,” McGarity said. “We try to mirror as much as we can what our peers are experiencing on campus.”

Georgia Tech, at its end-of-year board meeting Wednesday, announced that it would, in fact, implement a 10 percent furlough of athletics' employees over the next year. But the Yellow Jackets were doing it as a cost-cutting measure for their financially strapped athletic department.

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