Georgia Tech’s J Batt, who is nearing the one-year anniversary of when he was hired as athletic director, recently sat down with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for an interview. Here is what Batt said:
How do you feel about the current state of Tech athletics and where do you sense it is headed?
“First and foremost, it comes from a position of really great strength. There’s no other place in the country with as much tradition and history as we have here at Georgia Tech. From the places we play to the awards that have come from Georgia Tech – from the coach of the year, AD of the year, assistant coach of the year, player of the year in the Heisman (Trophy). All have their origins and connections to this place. Four national championships in football. We’ve been to Final Fours, we’ve been to the College World Series. We’ve had periods of great success. And, to be frank, it wasn’t that long ago that we were there.
“But if at the end of the day, if winning is key, which it absolutely is here, our recent success hasn’t measured up. We’re in a really good place to get back to that level of traditional success. National prominence for Georgia Tech athletics is not foreign, nor unachievable. Our goal is to regain that. There is a couple of things that lead us to that.
“One would be alignment. Alignment with our president, alignment with our campus, alignment with the system, alignment with our influential alums, the mayor, our donors. Clear priorities of where we’re going and how we’re going to get there. That clarity is really key. I think we’re all aligned.
“Part of the reason that I am here is that Dr. (Angel) Cabrera (Tech’s president) stepped forward and said we’re going to make Georgia Tech athletics as good as the rest of the institute. He’s doing that every day. Little stuff like, ‘Hey we’re going to launch the Competitive Drive (Initiative) the first week you’re on the job.’ That’s a huge step forward for us. ‘Hey we’re going to prioritize athletics and space.’ You’re sitting in the Wardlaw Building which has never been an athletics facility. It’s in the football stadium. Those things are difficult to do because campus is compact and you’re moving people’s space around. That’s the president walking the walk every day. He helped us to the largest budget we’ve ever had at $128 million. That’s a lot of the president supporting athletics and prioritizing it.
“Two, we’ve got to continue to generate revenue. Whether it’s this incredible partnership with Hyundai, which I think is really, really impactful for us, to the Competitive Drive, increasing annual dollars, increasing ticket sales, embarking on what will eventually be a really comprehensive masterplan for facilities and a fundraising campaign to match. Championships require championship-level resources. I think that’s not a secret, but at the end of the day, it is a point of emphasis for us.
“I’d say the third thing is we’re gonna win. That is the expectation. This is Georgia Tech. We’re going to have incredible students who do incredible work in the classroom. We have one of the most unbelievable legacies of student preparedness from our Total Person Program that Homer Rice started. We’re going to continue to do that well. But we’re gonna win ballgames. Comprehensively.
“I think setting that standard again – in some ways we’re a little bit of where Homer Rice was when he got here. He came in the late (1970s), he had to garner alignment, he had to raise dollars and the outcome of that successful effort was an unprecedented period of winning to see Georgia Tech win a national championship in football, go to Final Fours. I don’t think that’s unattainable.
“The last thing, and really one of the things that makes our position here so unique is that we’re gonna lean into a really, really strong institution. Georgia Tech is the third most selective public institution in America. We have tens of thousands, 50 thousand-plus applications for a couple thousand spots.
“This is a growing, vibrant institution. And we have to lean into Atlanta as, what I’ll say, is the best college sports city in America. As a city, with over seven million people, 43% of those people identify as college sports. That’s over 3 million college sports fans in our city. To lean into that strength, to lean into a place with all the Fortune 500 companies that are here that spend dollars and care about college sports, whether it’s the Peach Bowl and those sponsorships and Chick-fil-a and the Aflac kickoff (games) or the fact that we have the College Football Hall of Fame here. This is a tremendous college sports city. Leaning into that, partnering with the city, taking advantage of our unique position here in Midtown, finding those things together I think put us in this place where we can return to those levels of prominence.”
With the athletics budget being $128 million for the 2023-24 cycle, do you foresee that number leveling out annually or growing over time?
“I expect it to grow. But our continuing commitment will require a continued commitment to resources. Our goal would be to grow that on our operating basis, on a capital facilities plan basis as we move forward. What’s been really encouraging this far is we’ve started to have conversations and talked to our donors and fans about that. I think that we’re aligned there. I think that everybody understands that college athletics requires additional resources to be competitive and that we’re aligned to be competitive at the highest level.”
Why is ACC expansion good for Georgia Tech?
“It’s good for Georgia Tech for several reasons. We’re adding institutions with great athletic traditions and great academic tradition. I think it’s great for Georgia Tech in that these are markets in the (San Francisco-Oakland) Bay Area and Dallas that we have a ton of alums (there), we recruit student-athletes from these states and these communities so that’s a real bonus for us.
“It contributes to the long-term stability of the ACC. I think the (ACC) commissioner did an incredible job pulling together 15 members to get something done which is really hard. It contributes to the long-term health of the league, it puts us in a strong position for the foreseeable future. A strong ACC is good for Georgia Tech.”
There will be some revenue benefits through the new ACC expansion?
“Yes, it is absolutely revenue positive. There are additional expenses for some of the travel. The travel impact is probably less than it might look on the surface just based on intentional scheduling and sports, et cetera. But the increased revenue, both for each member on an annual basis as well as increased revenue into the success initiatives will far outstrip any additional expenses.”
The demolition of the Edge Center to make way for the Student Athlete Performance Center is starting soon which must make you excited?
“Could not be more excited about that building. This is a building that was envisioned to provide all the resources for our student-athletes to provide at a high level. I think we’ve been able to achieve that. We’ve got incredible space dedicated to strength and conditioning, also for sports medicine, state of the art recovery, huge commitment space-wise to mental health as that is certainly an important part of our commitment to our student-athletes. We wanted to show that with commitment of space.
“We’re also going to make a really strong connection to, and space dedicated to, sports science and sports analytics. At Georgia Tech, the incredible talent of our faculty and students is something that we’re going to lean into and leverage for an on-field, programmatic advantage as we build. Providing an incredible space that’s top of the line for sports science, is something that we’re going to make a big commitment to.
“I think the other thing is we made a huge commitment to football in the building. It provides a top of the line footprint for offices, meeting rooms, video, team spaces. It’s going to be top notch. And then finally, nutrition, whether it’s our athletics dining facilities as well as some of the nutrition commitments we’ve made to feed our teams across the board whenever allowable is going to be facilitated in this space. I’m really excited about it, real excited about the forward momentum with it and giving our student-athletes the home they deserve.”
Are there other facilities improvements in the works?
“We’ve begun the planning process for some comprehensive renovations. This facility that we’re sitting in, Bobby Dodd, will certainly be at the top of the list. We want to provide an enhanced game-day experience, enhanced premium-seating options, and do so in a thoughtful manner. We’ll want to do it as part of a comprehensive approach to our facilities across the board. I’ll tell you that planning process has begun. Long way to go to get to all those different needs, but we’ve begun to approach that. It’s important.
Where is Tech as it pertains to name, image and likeness?
“We’re competitive in the space. We’ve made a commitment to be in a place where we were open to the NIL space. The Tech Way launched shortly after I got here in November. They have done an incredible job. We pulled some different groups together. This was the first collective that pulled together the collective might of our donor base, our fan base, the corporate community, creating real, unique opportunities for name, image and likeness deals for our student-athletes. I think we’re in a competitive space.
“It’s an important priority. I think long term the guardrails that we’ve all talked about in college athletics need to be put in place for the long-term sustainability of name, image and likeness. But it’s important we do it. We’re fully supportive of our student-athletes taking advantage of it in the right way. I think we’re really fortunate we’ve got a great collective. Our Tech Way fund has done an incredible job putting us into a competitive space from a name, image and likeness perspective in this great market. Those collectives provide great platforms for what your student-athletes can take advantage of and we’re in a good spot.”
How do you get fans locally and regionally to increase attendance for your home events?
“It’s a combination. Certainly, winning does not hurt. And as that’s a goal for our athletic department and every single one of our programs, that never hurts to bring fans. But part of it is we want to take advantage of a great game-day experience at all of our venues. Part of the investment is we want to create unique and repeatable game-day experiences for our fans that they enjoy regardless.
“I think evolving our facilities will be part of that. Providing our fan base with a really great game-day experience will involve facility enhancements and upgrades across the board. Not only just premium seating, but those things which we can do to help put our fans in a position where they really enjoy their game days is really important to get them to come and come back. We want to make this one of the most approachable environments in the city of Atlanta. That’s going to take some evolution. That’s going to take some enhancements. That’s going to take some continued work on our end.
“But what I think you’ll see from us is a commitment to that. We want to provide the options that our fans want from a premium-seating perspective. But continue to transform and what continues to be I think one of the best settings for college football. We’re the best college football town in America, we have the best college football setting in the city. So, I think continuing to enhance that is really important.
“But let’s also be sure to speak to McCamish (Pavilion), too. We’ve got a perfect venue for really, really good ACC basketball. We’re in the best basketball conference in America. It’s a really, really right-sized building with great sightlines that I’m excited we’ll have Duke, we’ll have (North) Carolina here, we’ll have top-level competition.
“You mentioned about the future of the athletics department. One of the things I’m most excited about, and gives me a lot of confidence, of where we’re going, is the leaders we have in place. Through periods of change and building, leadership is really important. Great leadership through change is so important. We have great leaders, whether it’s (football coach) Brent Key who is one of the most authentic leaders I’ve ever been around, to (men’s basketball coach) Damon Stoudamire who’s one of the most experienced broadly across all levels of his sport, to (women’s basketball coach) Nell Fortner who has won Olympic medals, to (golf coach) Bruce Heppler who has been in the great spot of almost winning a national championship several times, to (baseball coach) Danny Hall who’s a legitimate hall of famer.
“We’ve got great coaches here that we’re going to build off of and build from that give me a lot of confidence that, again, we’re going to step out and we’re being aggressive. That’s what our place requires. Having great leaders to help build with and build back with gives me a lot of confidence.”
What are your expectations for both Brent Key and Damon Stoudamire, and for that matter, all your coaches moving forward?
“Never gonna do wins and losses or a bowl or an x, y, z because I don’t think that’s fair to the coaches or the kids. But My expectation is that we build their programs back to the place that our fan base expects, which is to be about the right things, to build it the right way, to continually improve. Georgia Tech and Georgia Tech athletics have been built on hard work and discipline and toughness for so long, restoring a lot of that, I have expectations (Key and Stoudamire will) do that and I have supreme confidence that they’re going to be able to get those programs back to the spot that they deserve.”
The deal with Hyundai is a significant one, can we expect similar partnerships in the future?
“It’s a daily focus for us. We brought on board a chief revenue officer, one of the first things I did when I got here, to just wake up every morning and focus on revenue generation. We’ll explore any opportunities that are available. Whether that’s our corporate donorships, donor opportunities, facility enhancements, we’re going to wake up every day focused on driving revenue. It’s important to reestablishing where we want to be.”