While Georgia’s football team is still around a month away from officially starting practices for the coming season, the Bulldogs have been addressing numerous issues away from the field over the past few months — including the SEC’s new alcohol policy and the possibility of moving the Georgia-Florida game from Jacksonville.
Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity sat down last week to discuss these topics, and more:
Q: What is the balance of opinion from fans about whether to keep Georgia-Florida football game in Jacksonville or turn it into a home-and-home series?
A: I think any decision of that nature is going to be 50/50, or 60/40 one way or another. There’s been feedback from a lot of people on why the game should move, why the game should stay in Jacksonville. You know it’s been there since 1933, and I know (Georgia football coach Kirby Smart has) been very vocal about the importance in recruiting, and that’s certainly an important element of it, but there are a lot of other elements that go into the decision. So we’re waiting to have further discussion with the city of Jacksonville to where we can receive more updated information of what we may be looking at down the road. … When we receive that, we’ll huddle with our peers at the University of Florida. We’ll huddle internally with Kirby and (UGA President Jere Morehead) and maybe some other staff members to really give it a deep dive into what’s best for the University of Georgia — and I’m sure Georgia and Florida will be on the same page. We usually are on a lot of issues, but there’s a lot of work to be done. We’re in Jacksonville through 2021, so it’s not something that has to be done right this second.
Q: You mentioned Kirby Smart’s feelings about recruiting and wanting to host recruits in Athens. Most people take that to mean Smart would like to move this game out of Jacksonville. Is that a fair characterization of his opinion?
A: I think so. I think that’s pretty much where Kirby stands. … He is just a recruiting guru. Anytime something is done to take away from that effort, I think he feels like it affects our program. But there’s so many other things going in that game, with that weekend. … There are a lot of things to consider.
Q: If UGA wanted to move on from Jacksonville, it wouldn’t require any cooperation from Florida, correct?
A: I don’t think that’ll happen because we both think alike in this game, but who knows if it’s their home game, who knows where they could take it. If it’s our home game, I know we’d like it here (in Athens). There’s been some talk of Atlanta, but I’m not sure that has much legs. If you’re not going to play it in Jacksonville, then the games need to be on campus.
Q: The SEC recently decided to allow alcohol sales in general seating areas of its stadiums, but UGA has decided not to do that. Is it fair to say that those who don’t want alcohol sales in Sanford Stadium are more vocal than those that do?
A: Absolutely. I’d say it’s at least 2-to-1 on those that like it as it is. … It’s very vocal on those that are against it in the general seating areas. There are a lot of things to play out. … Right now all our concession stands are manned — like they are in college football — by groups of youngsters or volunteers. To be able to serve alcohol, you’ve got to do it in certain areas. They’ve got to be certified, licensed. There are a lot of things that go into it as far as the liability piece of it. It’s really not a revenue decision. I know people might disagree with that, but the number — I’m not sure it moves the needle for us to be able to say we’re doing this because of revenue. … Right now we have challenges in our concessions stands enough. We’ve gone to our grab-and-go concept. We’ve done away with things that takes someone to prepare for. It’s grab, you go, you pay for it. We know people want to get through the lines in a hurry, but I don’t think I’ll be able to stack up a row of eight-ounce beers (in a grab-and-go concept). Nobody likes a warm beer.
Q: UGA will offer additional alcohol sales within the club section to donors who’ve given at least $100,000. That high-dollar cutoff drew a lot of media attention. Do you regret it when it comes out and seems Georgia is showing extra preference to its largest donors from a perception standpoint?
A: I think it’s such a small number. Right now in the Magill Club — I think we’ll call it the Magill Lounge — there are only 200 donors in there. We’ve got over a thousand donors in the Magill Society. So it’s only a fraction of individuals, but it’s sort of a good problem to have. We have a lot of interest. A lot of people have really given large donations. We really can’t move their seat locations until somebody gives up their seat location, so what do we have as an alternative to that? This is an alternative among that group to offer this opportunity.
Q: How much time, if any, is spent saying what do we do for the rank-and-file fan, the non-Magill society donor?
A: We need to make sure concessions are functioning at the highest rate possible, and adding as many restrooms as we can, making sure they’re clean, and things along those lines. We also want to keep our prices stable. Right now we’re at $75 for our premium games and $55 for others, but our season tickets have not increased this year, and hopefully we don’t have to increase in the future. That’s always probably the most controversial thing you can do is raise ticket prices. But we’ve not had to do that because we’ve been very successful fundraising. … We try to make sure winning is the main thing, (but) it’s not the only thing. We try to focus on traffic. We try to focus on if we were going to the game, what would be our pinch points and our concerns? … We’re not perfect, but what we try to do is make it the best it can possibly be and have a great experience.
Q: Auburn pushed loudly to move its game with UGA out of its traditional November slot. The SEC agreed, and UGA seemingly went along with the decision. What did UGA gain by doing that?
A: I think once the schedules are announced a lot of questions will be answered. I’ll just say be careful what you wish for in some situations because we know what the schedules look like — we’ve seen it. Some school may want to do X, Y or Z. Well, there are a lot of unintended consequences with that because it’s not to where one school has an advantage. Every future schedule we have is vetted by Kirby and (Georgia Director of Football Operations) Josh Lee. They chop it up. If we have problems with that, we get back to the SEC office and are able to give our opinion. So far we have not had any issues in that area. I know there’s some concern about tradition … but if that game is at a different time for us, and it works and Kirby is comfortable with it, then we’re OK with it.
Q: You recently signed a one-year contract extension and have said it was your preference not to be a longer extension. Why was that?
A: I think it was something I was very comfortable with. It’s the same deal (Morehead) has. I’ve always felt like it should be a year-to-year deal here. Our goal is that we’ll sit down and evaluate it maybe in January or February and just see how things are going. But it gives everybody total flexibility — instead of signing a long-term deal, and all of a sudden if you decide it’s time to move on. It’s the best way to handle it.
Q: Is it your expectation that you’ll be at UGA through the end of the building of the newly proposed football facility?
A: We don’t know the timelines yet. We’re going through that right now. As a matter of fact, I think that’s one thing that — even though there’s no shovels in the ground — there’s a tremendous amount of work almost every day on getting everything set the way the football staff would like it. This will have Kirby’s fingerprints all over it, but I know he’s excited about it. He wants it done tomorrow. There are a lot of dynamics involved, but once it’s completed, it’ll be the best in the country.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism. AJC.com. Atlanta. News. Now.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.