UGA athletics expecting $55 million shortfall

Over 10,000 football fans sit and watch the Black Team vs the Red Team during the UGA Spring football Football Game in Sanford Stadium at the University of Georgia on Saturday, April 14,2012. The Red team won 32 to 31.

Credit: Johnny Crawford

Credit: Johnny Crawford

ATHENS -- The Georgia Athletic Association is expecting a shortfall of about $55 million because of the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

That’s according to Athletic Director Greg McGarity, who shared that news during a question-and-answer session with reporters after Friday’s fall-semester virtual meeting of the athletic department’s board of directors. UGA President Jere Morehead also was on the call.

That number could go higher, McGarity warned.

“That’s based on what we know the season to be at this time,” McGarity said. “If there was any interruption or anything, it could change those numbers. But that (estimate is) under the assumption that we’re moving forward with 10 (football) games.”

McGarity said that figure represents a net after revenue and expenses have been calculated. Georgia’s revenues totaled $151.4 million in the last fiscal year. But revenue is down because of canceled games and decreased football attendance in observance of social-distancing guidelines. Expenses are expected to be up considerably because of medical testing and increased sanitation protocols and procedures.

Georgia will have to turn to its considerable reserve fund to make up the shortfall. UGA has more than $100 million in its reserve, which is managed by the UGA Foundation. Treasurer Ryan Nesbit told the board Friday that $64.1 million of currently is unallocated.

Georgia had to reduce seating in 92,746-seat Sanford Stadium by 75 to 80 percent in order to adhere to social-distancing guidelines. The majority of the seating is being divided among the Bulldogs' 14,000 donors, who account for 58,000 season tickets each year.

However, the opt-out rate for those annual contributors continues to hover around 54 percent.

UGA incentivized season-ticket holders to contribute their remaining balances for the 2020 season to a COVID-19 relief fund to help defray some of the extra costs. McGarity said the final numbers on that initiative are not in yet.

Regardless, though, McGarity said he expects the Bulldogs will fill all their available seats for the four home games.

“With the amount that opted out, it actually helped us accommodate more of our donors,” McGarity said. “That relieved some pressure on having to deliver some bad news to some donors. So, we feel good about where our numbers are. And, frankly, that’s pretty consistent across the league.”

McGarity said that a representation of UGA’s Redcoat Band would attend the football games and sit in their normal seats -- “socially distanced, of course” -- on the north side of the stadium. They will not march, however. Cheerleaders will not be allowed to attend.

As for whether tailgating will be allowed, McGarity reiterated that a decision hasn’t been made.

“There are a lot of challenges there,” he said. “The health and welfare of everybody is a certainly a concern, but we’re trying to balance that against having a sense of normalcy.”

Ultimately, Morehead will make the decision.

“In most of these situations, I’ll support the recommendations that come from athletics, and I would expect to be the case here,” Morehead said.

McGarity said they should make a determination by the end of next week.

Friday’s board meeting was a long one, lasting nearly two hours. The highlight was a long presentation from Kevin Carr, founder and CEO of Pro2CEO, a development firm that specializes in assessing diversity, equity and inclusion in sports organizations. Carr has partnered with UGA to determine strategic initiatives in those areas. He gave Georgia high marks, saying 80 percent of the athletes surveyed believe it endorses change as an organization.

He credited the athletic department with what he determined to be 19 different diversity-inclusion-innovation accomplishments since he has been doing his research. However, he said his surveys revealed that only 35 percent of coaches and staff believe the organization is truly innovative and only 50 percent believe it is adept to change.

Josh Brooks, Georgia’s senior deputy AD, updated the board on the progress of the Butts-Mehre football complex expansion. He reported the $80 million project as being “on time and under budget.”

Compliance director Will Lawler gave a presentation on NCAA rules regarding boosters. Also, two new student representatives were introduced to the board: Caroline Chipman, a member of the soccer team, and Tori Ecton, graduate student in sports management. Sophomore Kearis Jackson also joined the board as a student rep but could not participate because of football practice.

Morehead addressed the rising numbers of positive tests for the coronavirus on campus. The university reported 1,417 positive cases between Aug. 31 and Sept. 4, according to a weekly update posted on its website. The previous week, UGA reported 821 positive cases, its highest five-day total since the pandemic began in March.

“What we continue to see is the measures that we’ve taken on campus have worked,” Morehead said. “They work in my class. I have a mask on and everyone in my class has a mask on, and we’re all social distancing. Where it’s not working is downtown in the evenings. It’s not working at off-campus parties. Unfortunately, those are things beyond my control. They’re under the control of the Athens-Clarke County government.

"But we continue to work with everyone and hope the messaging we’re giving will lead to more favorable results in the coming weeks.”

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