Talking points: Georgia's (lack of) full-length indoor practice facility

semerson@macon.comDecember 20, 2013 

Georgia's current indoor facility, which is the width of a regular football field, but only about 20 yards in length.

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ATHENS - The idea of a full-length indoor practice facility has kind of gained outsized importance in the mind of some Georgia football fans. Yes, Mark Richt would like one. And Greg McGarity would like to build him one. But it's not the top priority for either of them, and nor should it.

The lack of a full-length facility has become a symbol for what some see as the thriftiness of Georgia's athletic programs. That's a debatable topic and one for another day.

But for now, here are some truths about the possibility of an indoor practice facility, which isn't imminent, but isn't off the agenda either.

1. It's on the to-do list, but not set

At this point all that's new is that UGA is studying the cost of building an indoor practice facility. Athletics director Greg McGarity thinks it would be in the neighborhood of $10 million, and said things are just in the exploratory phase right now.

"We've got a number of projects that we'd love to do," McGarity said. "It's your dream list. We've got a lot of things on that list. But where they are in priority shifts with time."

And cost isn't the only factor. Location is a headache, bringing us to:

2. It would not be be built close to the Butts-Mehre building

Georgia's football facility is surrounded closely on all sides by existing buildings. There's an elementary school on one side, while on the other three sides are UGA-owned properties: Foley Field, the outdoor track facility, and Georgia's existing outdoor fields. (Plus the smaller indoor facility.)

But McGarity said there's no appetite to remove any of those in favor of an indoor facility.

"The track, that's definitely out of the question," McGarity said. "People think you can just pick up the track and move it. You've gotta move offices, you've gotta move locker rooms, you've gotta put support services out there. It probably triples the cost of a project."

And as for the four practice fields - two grass, two turf - it may seem an easy solution to say: Hey, take away one or two of them. But team officials would rather not do that either.

"We don't want to give up the first-class practice facility we have here with two grass fields and two turf fields," McGarity said. "That's one of the best in college football. We don't want to disturb that environment."

3. A site off South Milledge is more likely

There is room off South Milledge street, a short drive from the Butts-Mehre. Yes, Georgia players or coaches would have to bus or even walk over. But they already do that when they hold scrimmages at Sanford Stadium, which is about five times a year.

"It's gotta probably be out on South Milledge," McGarity said. "That's the easy part, is where it goes. I think the other part is getting someone to provide some ballpark information about space, and just doing a calculation on square footage."

It's not unprecedented to have an indoor facility further away: South Carolina, for instance, has an indoor facility on campus, whereas its normal practice fields are off campus, next to Williams-Brice Stadium, more than a mile away.

Head coach Mark Richt said last month that "South Milledge is closer than Flower Branch. And we wouldn't have to ask permission to use it."

4. The football team wouldn't use it that much for actual practice

The reason there hasn't been much urgency is that the Bulldogs don't actually have to cancel practice or bus to Flowery Branch that much. Every time it happens it looks bad to not have a facility, but it happens infrequently enough that the administration has to weigh that against the cost.

"You can count on your hands how many times we would have needed it this year. You can probably count it on one hand. Two days against Tech. Probably the first day of bowl practice," McGarity said. "So that's a significant investment for something that is used infrequently."

5. But the facility would have many uses, including non-football

This is where it does become a more compelling case to build the thing: It wouldn't just be a sop to the football program.

"It could be important to a number of various teams, so that's why it's on the list," McGarity said. "I'm sure every team would use it. Practice, or workout, in bad weather, rainy weather. Shoot, you can take ground balls in there, pitchers could pitch, softball pitchers could throw, track teams could sprint. So every team can use it."

Final thought

The feeling here is that ultimately Georgia will find the means to build a facility off of south Milledge Street. Mark Richt having to bus the team more than an hour away to Flowery Branch the week of the Georgia Tech game may have been the final straw. The lack of a facility hasn't really been an albatross around the program. In the larger sense it's just been an annoyance, as well as bad P.R. every time Georgia has to go over there. But if Richt is okay with a location off south Milledge, then McGarity can probably sell the athletic board on spending $10-15 million (if that's what it ends up being) on something that will be a benefit to all teams, not just football.

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