ATHENS – Georgia’s spring practice ends on Thursday, which means the start of another season: Mark Richt and Mark Fox’s spring speaking tour, to meet and talk to Bulldog fans at various cities.
But not as many cities as before. And at least one of those left out, Columbus, is none too pleased.
Richt and Fox will appear at only seven cities this year, down from the normal 12. And each of this year’s events will also be free. Both moves were made in order to boost what has been dwindling attendance for the tour.
“We just felt like it got too spread out,” said Mark Slonaker, the executive director of the Bulldog Club. “We only have a certain window to get the coaches out with their schedules, and recruiting, and practice. We just felt we were really stretched with the 12 cities.”
But that meant that some cities had to be left out.
Jay Gemes, the president of UGA Alumni Columbus Chapter, was surprised when he found out a couple months ago. Especially because Richt did not make it to Columbus last year, with defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt instead joining Fox on the trip.
“It smarted a little bit to see that Augusta, Macon and Savannah made the cut, when we didn’t. Especially because (Richt) wasn’t here last year,” Gemes said Thursday. “But I did enjoy coach Pruitt. He did provide a little red meat last year.”
Still, to go from Pruitt to no event at all, and no promise of one next year, is not ideal.
The UGA Day events offer a chance to shake hands and have their pictures taken with the head football and men’s basketball coach, as well as hear from others: UGA president Jere Morehead will appear at four events, and athletics director Greg McGarity at three.
The first event is Tuesday in Savannah, followed two days later by Rome, and eventually Albany (April 28), Augusta (April 30), Charlotte (May 18), Macon (May 20) and Atlanta (July 27).
The decision to pare down the amount of UGA Days was made after dwindling attendance at each site over the past few years. Columbus, for instance, had well less than a hundred last year.
The Bulldog Club and the UGA alumni association worked together to decide which cities got picked this year, according to Slonaker. They aimed to have “quadrants,” including one in southwest Georgia. That’s how Albany, which had better attendance at last year’s event, got picked, instead of Columbus.
“Columbus is a great city, and we’ll be back,” Slonaker said.
UGA officials are also hoping that some fans in cities without a UGA Day will drive to one closest by. But Gemes is skeptical.
“I’d be surprised,” he said. “I’m not planning on going down to Albany for that.”
In fact, Gemes said another Columbus resident e-mailed him to say they shouldn’t drive to Albany, as it would push up their turnout and make UGA want to keep going back there.
Gemes acknowledged that they didn’t have a good turnout last year in Columbus. But he was surprised because of the amount of recruits, as well as some significant donors” in the area.
There is no controversy associated with making every event free. In past years tickets varied from site to site, depending on the meal. Slonaker said they never made money off of the days, it was just to defray costs. Now they will lose a bit of money, but hope to push up overall attendance.
“The main thing we want is President Morehead and our coaches out there, among the people,” Slonaker said.