GREENSBORO — The University of Georgia announced plans to build a new track and field complex Friday, and no one could be more excited than Kirby Smart.
Smart, the Bulldogs’ two-time national championship coach, made a surprise appearance at UGA’s athletic board meeting to express his support for the outdoor and indoor track facilities project, which will be constructed on South Milledge Avenue across from UGA’s soccer and softball complexes. The indoor facility would become the only one of its kind in the state.
Also Friday, the board announced a $13 million increase in the department’s budget, rising to $175.2 million for the 2024 fiscal year from $162.2 million for the 2023 year.
The site of the current UGA track will be converted to two all-grass football practice fields. Georgia has spent more than $240 million in football facilities upgrades since Smart was hired in December 2015, and he explained Friday the importance of adding the grass fields.
“What does it mean to football? For us, we’re one of only two programs in the SEC that do not have natural grass football fields side by side,” Smart said at the Ritz-Carlton Reynolds on Lake Oconee, site of the annual UGA athletic board spring meetings.
“We have an indoor (football) facility that’s state of the art, but it is a turf field, and it is beside our grass field.
“The 2023 NFLPA study came out with a study on natural grass versus artificial grass, and injuries are higher on artificial turf than natural grass. So one of the big advantages of this is we’ll have the ability to have two practice fields side by side.”
Smart said economics also are involved, as UGA spent $1.36 million sodding and re-sodding its one grass field from February 2022 to February 2023.
“We’re on it continuously,” Smart said. “(Because) it’s safer to be on a grass field.”
Georgia Athletic Director Josh Brooks said the project represents an attempt to enhance the track program.
“We have two programs in track and field and football that have had tremendous success, and we want to be successful in all 21 sports,” Brooks said. “But with programs that are successful, we don’t want to remain stagnant, we want to continue to grow.
“Right now our track facility is not able to host any event of significant size; we had to turn down the SEC meet this year because we don’t have the space around it to truly host it the right way.”
Brooks and Smart noted how Georgia track athletes have to travel to Birmingham, Alabama, to run on an indoor track.
Brooks said the next step in the process would be for UGA to find an architect. He did not provide any sort of timeline for the start or finish.
Georgia second-year track and field coach Caryl Smith Gilbert was with her team at a regional meet in Jacksonville, Florida, and could not be present, but she taped a video presentation thanking the school for the support.
“This project will continue to elevate our track and field program to peak in the SEC and NCAA championships,” Smith Gilbert said. “Our own dedicated space off of South Milledge will provide opportunities for our student athletes to train all year long. It will bring young people to our campus to compete at AAU and USA track and field events and other junior events and will give us an area to host SEC and NCAA championship competitions.
“This will be a true, one-of-a-kind facility and the only indoor track in the state of Georgia.”
Smart likes the idea of more great track athletes – some of whom play football – coming to Georgia.
“Since we have been at Georgia, we have had four or five athletes compete in track,” Smart said. “So I have no greater interest in all of our sports than I do in track; that’s the one that directly impacts the football roster the most.”