The indoor facility debate renewed during spring practice with just a simple tweet.
It was a wintry afternoon in mid-March, with bitter gusts reaching close to 30 mph. Most in attendance had their hands in their pockets. Others wore heavy jackets. All were eager to migrate inside.
“About time UGA gets an indoor facility. Lets get this trending #UGAindoor,” Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray sent to his 84,000-plus Twitter followers while watching Georgia’s Pro Day.
Murray was one of the few hundred spectators who observed Pro Day in frigid conditions on March 21, where temperatures consistently stayed in the mid-30s and winds gusted at high speeds throughout the morning. It was far from an ideal environment for the NFL draft prospects auditioning for scouts representing all 32 teams, one that some players and reporters ventured to say hindered their performances.
Reigning two-time All-American Jarvis Jones had a subpar afternoon highlighted by a 4.92 second 40-yard dash and a pedestrian performance in position drills. Orson Charles suffered the same problems in comparable conditions at Pro Day a year ago, displaying speeds that were expected to be much higher.
But all blame in Charles’ and Jones’ fallen draft stock can’t be put on weather conditions alone. Charles was arrested on DUI charges four days after his Pro Day, and Jones has mounted skepticism over his health, specifically after a major neck injury in 2009.
Pro Day, however, evoked a question that reverberated throughout the athletic department – one that many Bulldog players and coaches chimed in on: Should Georgia build a full-fledged indoor practice facility?
Players and coaches have differing views
Murray believes that a full-size indoor field would be highly beneficial for more than just future Pro Days. He said it would give the Bulldogs a leg up on the competition because the team would not miss practices to inclement weather.
“I think it definitely hinders us a little bit,” Murray said of Georgia’s lack of an indoor field. “I think during the season, when it’s lightning and raining, or even in spring practice, once you start practice, you can’t get it back. So if it starts lightning and raining, it kind of stinks that you have to cancel a whole practice when you’re mid-way through it, where if you had a whole [indoor] field, you could go in there.”
Murray breaking his cliché response habits during an interview and extensively speaking his mind is rare, but he did so at length when discussing the potential of an indoor facility, particularly because he has such a strong opinion on the matter. As the interview neared conclusion, even he knew his comprehensive response was out of the ordinary.
“I’ll probably get in trouble for saying all of this,” Murray said with a laugh.
When Murray spoke about the notion, he had just returned from a week-long football camp with quarterback guru George Whitfield at the University of Oklahoma. While there, he enjoyed the luxury of the Sooners’ 74,000 square-foot indoor arena that was built in 2002.
“I was pampered for the week,” Murray said.
Linebacker Jordan Jenkins can relate, as he was pampered plenty during his recruiting in 2011. As a five-star prospect, Jenkins saw many of the top facilities in the Southeastern Conference including Alabama, Auburn and LSU, all of which have an indoor facility. Jenkins said that the only thing holding Georgia back from being No. 1 among the conference contingent is its lack of one.
“I definitely feel like we’re even with a lot of the other programs,” he said. “Getting that indoor field would definitely put us over the top.”
Jenkins’ frustration of playing outdoors is more of an individualized problem, though. He lost his right pinky in an accident in seventh grade. Jenkins said he doesn’t mind playing in extreme heat, but when the Bulldogs practice in bitter conditions, he sometimes finds himself in agony because of how sensitive his finger, or lack thereof, can get.
“I wish we had one, because it’s freezing and it sucks,” Jenkins said after an April practice in 35-degree, rainy weather. “When it’s cold out and storming out and really raining and everybody is soaking wet, mentally no one really wants to practice. It’s a waste of a practice really.”
Georgia coach Mark Richt doesn’t believe a rainy practice is a wasted one, and actually, quite the opposite. Richt tries to instill a mindset in his players that makes them appreciate the inclement conditions because it acclimates them to any weather issues they might see in a game.
“I think football is an outdoor sport,” Richt said. “We don’t want to get too soft around here.”
When Richt was hired in 2001, the discussion was on the table for constructing an indoor arena of at least 100 yards. But there were more pressing financial matters to deal with that held higher priority.
“We were going to spend money on other things that were more important," he said.
Richt acknowledged that should Georgia revamp the facilities, the Bulldogs would only practice indoors when they absolutely needed to.
“I think it’s smart,” tight end Arthur Lynch said of Richt’s outlook. “You can’t really predict weather in football. You just play outside and you’ve got to get used to it. I think practicing in the cold, rainy weather, we do get an advantage because there are teams like Alabama, where if it was like this, they’d probably be inside, whereas us, we kind of get adapted to playing in the cold and in different conditions.”
Should the prospect arise, though, Georgia knows where to turn.
When it comes to athletic facility upgrades, turn to Greg McGarity
Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity has overseen a multitude of modernizations during his three-year tenure in Athens. Among the projects he’s administered include concrete restoration and scoreboard renovations to Sanford Stadium, a $40 million expansion to Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall and planned press box and main entrance renovations at Foley Field.
But those refurbishings are only what McGarity contributed to the Georgia athletic department.
While an associate executive to University of Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley, McGarity was instrumental in the planning and construction of the Heavner Football Complex in 2008. As one of those responsible for drafting a $28 million budget funded completely by 16 private boosters, McGarity ensured that the state-of-the-art, semi-indoor facility was just as economical as it was practical.
Florida’s goal when developing Heavner, according to the Gainesville Sun, was to meet the highest green-building standards.
Within a year of its construction, Heavner earned a platinum rating from the U.S. Green Building Council – the highest merit possible given by the esteemed nonprofit. Heavner was the first building in the state of Florida and the only athletic facility in the country to receive the honor at the time of the distinction in 2009.
McGarity said that sustained refurbishing to a school’s athletic facilities must be a top priority, and that Florida did an excellent job of maintaining that outset.
“We’re always constantly marinating and upgrading all of our facilities. We did at Florida and we do now at Georgia,” McGarity said. “That’s an ongoing process. If you don’t do that, then you’re being delinquent.”
If there was one thing Heavner is missing amid the prestigious distinctions, however, it’s a full-size indoor practice facility.
Florida is one of five schools in the Southeastern Conference that lacks one of at least 100 yards, joining Kentucky, Mississippi State, South Carolina and Georgia. But among the contingent, Florida and Kentucky are the only two that lack one altogether. The remaining have indoor accommodations between 30 and 50 yards. Missouri and Vanderbilt are also without an indoor facility, but the two expect to have one by the start of the 2013 and 2014 seasons, respectively.
Comparable to Florida, Georgia’s problem in erecting one is not at all about money. The state-border rivals are two of the most profitable athletic programs in the country.
The Bulldogs’ most recent football profit report of $53 million is third highest in the NCAA and tops the SEC, according to Forbes. The Gators aren’t far behind either, and generated roughly $47 million in football alone in its most recent report.
Both athletic departments value at $176 million combined, and rank among Forbes’ top dozen most valuable college programs, a selection that weighs four components: value to the university, to its athletic department, to its conference and to the surrounding community.
McGarity, who has spent his entire professional career in Gainesville or Athens, said that funding an indoor facility would not be a problem at either school. Only one roadblock sits in the way.
“There’s just no green space to do it,” McGarity said. “I think people underestimate the size and the dimensions that an indoor practice facility encumbers. It’s not just a 100-yard field; it’s all of the other associated areas. It’s just not as simple as locating something like that in green space. If there was a facility of that nature, it’d have to be out off campus somewhere.”
“You’re talking [about] a facility upwards of $25 million, but that’s irrelevant here because there’s no real reason to deal with anything that’s in the ‘what if’ world because we really don’t have the green space here within our facilities to do it,” McGarity said.
Among the possible locations that have been suggested include a site down Milledge Avenue near Jack Turner Stadium, where the softball team plays. It’s spacious, open and there isn’t much traffic. But it's two and a half miles away, and that’s something Richt doesn’t like.
“If we were going to have one, I’d want it to be right here [at Butts-Mehre],” Richt said. “If it was going to be a mile or two miles away or beyond walking distance, I didn’t want to do it. One of the benefits of having it is being able to start practice and if lightning strikes nearby and it’s not safe, then you roll right in and continue practice and all that. If you’ve got to stop, load up a bus, take it down there or have a bunch of buses sitting there waiting just in case and all that, it just wasn’t going to be worth it to us.”
Added McGarity: “If you place out [by the softball field], then you’ve got transportation issues. With it being off the beaten path, so to speak, everybody would have to bus out there, so it’s just kind of impractical to do it off site.”
A good investment?
Every SEC school has either built or made multi-million dollar renovations to its football facilities within the past decade alone. Nine of the 14 programs have done so in the past five years. When making their upgrades, each school has contributed an average of $27 million, including Georgia.
Butts-Mehre re-opened last year after a $40 million overhaul that upgraded its weight room and football and administrative offices, added a 40-yard multipurpose/walkthrough field with synthetic turf and reconstructed the outdoor practice fields.
The changes were talked about as long ago as Richt’s arrival, but weren’t completed until just before the 2011 campaign. Former athletic director Damon Evans handled most of the particulars, but when he was fired, McGarity stepped in to oversee the finishing touches.
“It was nearing completion when I came on board. I was able to see during that whole 2010 football season that we were operating while the building was being renovated,” McGarity said. “And then to see us occupy it after that season certainly made life a lot simpler for everyone.”
Jenkins believes that despite Butts-Mehre’s recent makeover and space issues towards making any further additions, action will be taken toward building an indoor facility in the near future.
“I think it’ll happen pretty soon,” Jenkins said. “I think in the next two or three years or so they’ll start making plans.”
Lynch said that the proposition doesn’t faze him because he will have long since graduated when any proposed facility would be erected. But he did say that Georgia wouldn’t regret pulling the trigger.
“It’s always going to be a good investment,” Lynch said. “There are so many things you can do in an indoor facility beyond football, in terms of offseason workouts, mat drills and even function.”
“But are we dying to get one? I don’t think so,” Lynch said.