June 20, 2017 – 8:30 AM EDT
ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — In a stunning turn of events, the University of Georgia ended Stanford University’s 22-year stranglehold on the NACDA Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup by storming into a first-place finish, fueled by national championships in eight different sports over the past year.
Georgia Athletic Director Greg McGarity credits the origin of the unprecedented surge to a change in the state’s Open Records law passed at the end of the 2016 legislative session.
“When it came to hiring and firing coaches, plenty of folks thought I couldn’t find my way out of a paper bag with one end open,” McGarity said with a chuckle. “The reality was that having to acknowledge an open records request in three days was crippling our ability to compete. Now that the shackles have been removed, there’s really no ceiling on what Georgia athletics can accomplish.”
The facts appear to bear McGarity out on that. Georgia’s baseball team, which had been mired in mediocrity for several years, never lost another game in 2016 after Governor Nathan Deal, wearing a Georgia cap and woofing, signed the bill into law. Several other sports at the school took off in similar fashion, being capped by both the men’s and women’s basketball teams crashing their respective Final Fours and winning 2017 national titles.
Ironically, given that he was the only person at the school willing to acknowledge any contact with Georgia lawmakers about the bill, head football coach Kirby Smart was one of the rare coaches who did not bring a national championship trophy back to Athens, as Georgia was upset by Houston in the semi-finals of the college football playoff.
However, Georgia fans aren’t holding that against Smart, as the Dawgs have signed what is widely acknowledged to be the nation’s best recruiting class this season, capped by inking all but one of the top ten high school players in the country. (That one player, Eureka, California’s Tony Brown, had a mother who wasn’t impressed with Georgia’s sales pitch: “Kirby kept talking about this Open Records law thing like it was some big deal. I kept telling him I didn’t see how that would help me get to see my boy play football every weekend.”)
Naturally, Georgia’s success hasn’t gone unnoticed. Asked about the rash of changes to other Southern states’ Open Records laws passed in response – most notably Alabama’s, where the standard of within a reasonable amount of time has been replaced by “whenever Coach Saban feels like it” – McGarity acknowledged a concern. “For us, it’s about a level playing field. It’s something we’ll ask Commissioner Sankey to address at next year’s spring meeting. If that doesn’t work, then we may have to look at other options.”
Are there any other future legislative changes in store to help keep the Bulldogs on top? “I could tell you about those, but then I’d have to have Jimmy Williamson arrest you,” he answered. “No, seriously,” he continued when he saw this reporter smile.