While I’m on the subject of the new west end zone project — you didn’t think I was done with that, did you? — there’s something else besides the money that sticks in my craw a bit. Listen to Kirby Smart wax eloquent about his new present:
“Really, it’s something we need to enhance our gameday experience for recruiting, but also make it better for our overall fan experience,” football coach Kirby Smart, entering his second season, said after the indoor facility dedication.”Then also for our players to have a locker room over there.”
… Smart said the stadium is used not only on gameday but on recruiting visits when hosting dinners. He said “a lot of teams on the (SEC) West obviously have had these venues. Most of the places I’ve been at stadiums they have had a recruiting room or a place to host recruits so we want to try to catch up to that, but we also want to go beyond them and do a better job and have a nice place for our players gameday locker room.”
“The biggest thing was just to have a recruiting venue at your site,” he said. “When kids come for a gameday experience, you’re able to have somewhere to take them.”
What about when the fans come for a gameday experience?
Look, I get that recruiting is a big deal for Smart. Use whatever adjective you like — obsessed, laser-focused, driven — recruiting is über alles for the man getting paid almost four million a year to win big. Really, I get that.
What I don’t get is why I have to be made to feel like my fandom is reduced at times to being a prop for recruiting. We saw that last year with the #93k exhortations to make G-Day a special occasion for the recruits and it appears we’re seeing more of the same with the new project if, as it appears, the recruiting lounge is centered between the students on game day. We’re not there to be entertained. We’re there to contribute to the experience of kids who aren’t even part of the program yet.
Yes, there are some fan friendly improvements in store for the west end, such as the new plaza area (not that Reid Plaza has been that terrific), redone concessions (a professional staff would be more welcome) and more bathrooms. But you get the feeling that most of those come almost as an afterthought, more of a throw in along the way as the facilities are upgraded for recruiting.
Doubt me on that? Well, maybe you should read Seth Emerson’s piece from yesterday about… bathrooms.
Georgia’s massive new stadium project hadn’t even been formally approved yet, and school president Jere Morehead was already going into fundraising mode. The goal, you see, is for most of it to be paid by fans, and only a bit for the reserve fund, so Morehead apparently knew he had to justify it.
“I share the athletic director’s optimism that these two initiatives the indoor athletic facility and the west end zone project, are certainly going to put the University of Georgia at a very competitive advantage in the Southeastern Conference,” Morehead told the athletic board. “And I hope and expect they’re going to lead to even greater success for our football program in the future.”
Then the board unanimously approved the $63 million project to rebuild Georgia’s dilapidated locker room on the other side of the stadium, along with a recruiting room that Kirby Smart was urging, and a nice plaza to accompany the project.
Great, right? Well, based on the feedback from many fans upon news of the stadium project, there are plenty of grumbles that the fan experience isn’t getting financial attention too. For instance, the fans are, er, ticked about the state of bathrooms at Sanford Stadium. The locker rooms may be old, but the bathrooms are from the 1970s, one fan said in a phone call. The concession facilities are also below par, fans say, leading to over-crowding and just a cramped, uncomfortable experience in the concourses.
So acting on behalf of those fans, this reporter asked athletics director Greg McGarity about just that.
Great question (by the way, if I can wander off from my stated topic for a second, can I take the opportunity to question once again why Seth gets the criticism he does from some of you, when there are moments like this when he’s clearly doing the Lord’s work?), but the answer shouldn’t surprise anyone in not being great.
“We’re trying to maximize everything we can,” McGarity said, speaking about the stadium as a whole. “As far as renovating restrooms, we’ll start with another – sort of our normal standard operating procedure is to make them as new as they possibly could be. But with this addition it does relieve a lot of the pressure in the main gate area and the west end of the stadium.”
That does not sound like a man who concerns himself with the fans’ game day experience, does it? Maybe he’s just too focused on improved wifi. Or maybe he’s simply not focused at all.
Then there’s the vision thing. UGA seems to be hopping from one major facility project to another, while sprinkling in many smaller projects, not only for football but other sports.
Why not go with a big master plan, as some other schools (like Clemson) have done?
McGarity pointed to a master plan that did exist in the late 2000s, that included an indoor building further off campus. He also pointed to a plan he saw in 1999 that had an indoor facility being built right on this spot.
“You prioritize stuff as they become important,” he said. “A master plan, it probably touches every facility that we have. So there’s a lot of other projects for other facilities that are in a master plan. But a lot of things are important as we go on, and some things rise to the level of importance.”
Like recruiting. And the Magill Society donors. For the rest of us unwashed, Emerson has some practical advice.
And for now, bathrooms in areas other than the west end zone don’t reach that level of importance. Fans will just have to hold it a bit longer.
Or stay at home where the lines are shorter and the facilities are friendlier. I’m not kidding myself when I write that; it’s not a perceived threat to Butts-Mehre, but merely the expression of a personal choice that some fans will make.
How to make it a perceived threat that would force McGarity to prioritize this as important stuff? I dunno. Hey, they’re big on Twitter hashtags. How does #flush93k work as an attention getter? It’s not like they’ll be using the last three characters for G-Day this year, anyway.
Eh, who am I deluding with this? It’s been a steady regression on the game day front for us since Michael Adams worked his magic on tailgating and it’s hard to see that changing, at least as long as everything is working from the administration’s point of view. That appears to be going swimmingly, so don’t miss your opportunity to commit to the G and support the West End Zone Project. And, in the meantime, hold it.