Georgia Bulldogs ‘in good shape’ to manage NCAA’s settlement

Georgia coach Kirby Smart celebrates with Georgia Athletic Director Josh Brooks after Georgia’s win against Tennessee at Neyland Stadium, Saturday, November 18, 2023, in Knoxville, Tn. Georgia won 38-10. (Jason Getz /



Georgia coach Kirby Smart celebrates with Georgia Athletic Director Josh Brooks after Georgia’s win against Tennessee at Neyland Stadium, Saturday, November 18, 2023, in Knoxville, Tn. Georgia won 38-10. (Jason Getz /

GREENSBORO — Budgets and treasury reports long ago were on the agenda to be discussed Friday at the Georgia Athletic Association’s board of directors meeting here at the Ritz-Carlton Lodge on Lake Oconee. The timing, however, could not have turned out better as UGA’s glowing financial report accompanied the abrupt arrival of the long-anticipated seismic change in college athletics.

On Friday, UGA athletics’ board of directors approved a record $192.7 million budget for Fiscal Year 2025. For the record, that budget didn’t include any proposed cash distributions for Georgia athletes. But they’re coming.

The SEC on Thursday joined the other college conferences now known as the “Autonomy 5″ (for now) in the decision to settle three multibillion-dollar federal antitrust lawsuits. As a result, those schools will have to pay approximately $2.8 billion in damages to past and current athletes over the next 10 years.

“I think we’re in good shape. We’ll manage it,” UGA President Jere Morehead said after the unusually short 30-minute meeting.

Added Athletic Director Josh Brooks: “I feel good about the future of where we’re headed.”

The NCAA’s settlement was made outside the confines of this posh lakeside retreat where Georgia conducts its end-of-school-year business each May. According to multiple published reports, schools and athletes have agreed to a revenue-sharing plan that will require those schools to distribute approximately $20 million per year with its athletes.

While the Bulldogs’ athletics’ trust could not independently confirm those figures or what the future holds for them or their athletes, it was clear from the information shared with the board that they well-heeled for what’s coming.

UGA treasurer Ryan Nesbit told the board the athletic association currently has $49 million of uncommitted funds in its reserves.

“The draw off of that helps our operating budget,” Brooks said of the reserve, sometimes referred to as the Bulldogs’ rainy-day fund. “In some degrees, it’s always raining. But we’re ready for it. Ready, like I said yesterday, to focus on growing revenues and being more efficient in the way we operate.”

Brooks said Georgia has “other buckets” from which they can draw. That includes the SEC’s annual member distribution from TV broadcast rights and other revenue streams. That’s will be in the neighborhood of $51 million per school this year and projects to be $56.7 million next year.

However, it remains the unmatched success of Georgia’s football program under ninth-year coach Kirby Smart that continues to drive the Bulldogs’ economy. Donations to UGA’s Magill Society this past year were $62 million, according to financials released Friday. That’s represents another increase from that donor base, which has averaged more than $50 million annually, according to Brooks.

Those steady increases were not a result of Georgia foreseeing the seismic shift in college athletics from an academic-based, amateur endeavor to one based on athletes being compensated and now sharing in profits.

All of this happened since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2021 that athletes should benefit from the use of their “name, image and likeness.” The NCAA subsequently approved NIL distributions that summer, and the price for doing business has continued to rise since then.

Now that they know what the initial costs will be, college athletics will move fast to keep them from spiraling out of control.

Unquestionably, it will be the dominant topic of discussion at the SEC Spring Meetings, which get under way in Destin, Florida, on Tuesday.

“I think there are a ton of issues we have to work through and that’s going to be something that get worked out over the next few months,” Brooks said. “We’re going to try to take this and make the best of it. We know where we are at with this piece and now the details of what’s moving forward is what we are going to spend a lot of time working.”

There already have been discussions of invoking scholarship limits. Schools with bottom lines far below Georgia have said they might have to eliminate some non-revenue sports.

The initial way to deal with it, however, is to get a handle on spending. At UGA, that has been exorbitant.

The football program spent $16.3 million for “compensation” in 2024 and that will increase to $19.6 million, according to the 2025 budget released Friday. The Bulldogs sport college football’s No. 1 recruiting budget and that line item is projected to increase from $4 million to $4.2 million.

One thing that undoubtedly will be affected is the “Facility Arms Race” that has been waged for the past couple of decades as athletic departments rushed to spend money on equipment and buildings to preserve their controversial status as non-profits.

Including the recently completed project to build an $26 million indoor tennis and plans for a new track and field facility, baseball stadium, softball complex and erecting the largest indoor video board in college athletics inside Stegeman Coliseum, the Georgia Bulldogs are in the midst of almost $250 million in facility upgrades.

“The days of building, building, building are going to slow down,” Brooks said. “I do anticipate that as revenues get shifted, that’s a very good possibility. That’s why I’m glad we were able to get so much done these last few years to get us caught up to where we’re in a great position facility-wise. But I do anticipate that the era of building will slow down.”

In the end, it’s all for the good of the athletes for whom fans buy tickets to seat perform. At the conclusion of Friday’s meeting, longtime emeritus board member Mac Guest shook his head in awe of what all he’d just heard as he left the hotel’s ballroom.

When Guest played offensive line for the Bulldogs in the 1970s, he said the only monetary compensation football players received was “a $15 laundry stipend.”

“Then the NCAA took that away,” he said with a shrug.

Times definitely have changed, and there are more to come.