During the week leading up to its annual football game against rival Georgia Tech last month, players from Georgia took bus rides on two days to the Atlanta Falcons’ indoor practice facility because of rain and cold weather.
The Bulldogs opened their Gator Bowl practices last Saturday outdoors on their own practice fields in heavy rain.
“Somebody was driving by practice and I guess asked if I was mad at the team because I was punishing them out there practicing out there in the rain,” coach Mark Richt said.
Georgia’s lack of a full-fledged indoor practice facility actually hasn’t cropped up as a major problem too often in recent years, but it is a higher priority now than it was just six months ago.
“It’s something that I think eventually will happen,” athletic director Greg McGarity said Thursday. “When, I’m not really sure. It’s something we’re just doing some exploratory work now on what others have. … We are trying to acquire some data on how much it would cost, those type of things.”
Vanderbilt opened an indoor facility in November that included a 120-yard field. It was part of a $31 million project that renovated a recreation center, according to The Associated Press.
Florida and Georgia are the only Southeastern Conference programs without a full indoor facility, McGarity said.
South Carolina is planning a facility that will cost $14.5 million. It will have a 100-yard regulation turf field, restrooms, training rooms and film towers.
McGarity and associate athletic director Josh Brooks made the trip to Flowery Branch when the Bulldogs practiced there to take a look at the Falcons’ facility.
Discussions with Georgia’s Athletic Association board of directors, which approves any construction projects, haven’t happened yet.
“I have a long list of facilities that are on our list to do and obviously an indoor facility is something we have on that list,” McGarity said. “Where it is on the priority line and where it is in funding, it will be included on a list of several other projects right now.”
Georgia now is raising funds for a $10 million facility improvement to the baseball team’s Foley Field and work on redoing the existing football practice fields, already approved at a cost of $3 million, will begin in January. Office space at the bottom of Stegeman Coliseum for baseball and athletics that is not at the level of other teams also need improvement, McGarity said.
McGarity wouldn’t say that Georgia will have an indoor facility in five years, but Richt and McGarity have talked about the subject recently when the Bulldogs had to go indoors. McGarity said he would look further into it.
“The ball’s moving but there’s no timetable or promises or anything other than if we were to do it where would it be and how much would it cost,” McGarity said.
The likely spot for the indoor facility would be on South Milledge Road near the softball and soccer complex, about 2.5 miles away from the Butts-Mehre building, which houses the athletic and football offices and four outdoor practice fields — including two artificial turf fields. The area surrounding the Butts-Mehre building on campus doesn’t have room for a new facility, McGarity said.
Under former athletic director Damon Evans, Georgia expanded Butts-Mehre with a nearly $40 million project that includes a 20-yard by 60-yard indoor turf field that can be used for walk-throughs and houses catered events but not a full-team practice. The team can go there to wait out lightning.
The price tag for a new indoor practice facility could range from $10-20 million depending on such things as if an indoor track goes in the building.
“I know a lot of people say they would love to contribute,” McGarity said. “If we do that, let’s see who will step up (for an indoor facility). Everybody says there are thousands that would love to, but when it comes time to write the check or to make that happen … I think the perception is that we print money around here and that’s not really the case. We do have a healthy reserve (around $70 million), but I think what people have to understand is we have $120 million in debt.”
Georgia players who have traveled to other campuses in the last year have brought up seeing those schools’ indoor facilities: quarterback Aaron Murray when he trained during spring break in Oklahoma and tight end Arthur Lynch when he visited friend and former Bulldogs quarterback Zach Mettenberger at LSU last week.
McGarity estimates Georgia has had only about 10 days over the last four years where it could not practice outside due to weather.
A new full-fledged facility would also be available for other Georgia programs such as soccer and softball to use during inclement weather.