If you haven’t read Seth Emerson’s follow-up to my last post about the season ticket price hike, you really ought to do so, if for no other reason than to learn the identity of StatDawg82. Seriously, the reason you should is because Seth managed to get Greg McGarity on the record. History tells you that’s usually not a good thing for the athletic department when he does and, true to form, it’s not in this case, either.
Before I get to that, let’s recap what came before the announcement of the new pricing policy at the Athletic Board meeting, as well as the nature of the way that policy was sold to the Board and to the fan base. There was the push for early 2018 Hartman Fund contributions to beat the change to the tax code eliminating the deduction for the contribution, offered without any mention of what 2018 ticket prices would be. Then, in the period before the Board meeting came a couple of coy hints of what was to come, this time without any reference as to when the price change would be implemented.
At the meeting, the increase was introduced with little explanation, other than this fact sheet the school produced. The key point there was this:
The focus was solely on the price of the ticket. Total fan outlay, including contributions, was not ever mentioned. Misleading? Hard to see how it wasn’t. Deliberate? Well, I guess you could say reasonable minds could differ on that. After all, I did.
It’s hard to say if the misinformation we’ve received is the result of sloppiness, ignorance or a deliberate fudging of the facts. What’s not hard to say is that Butts-Mehre didn’t much care either way about accuracy. Which really translates into not caring about being straight with the bulk of the fan base.
Which brings us to McGarity’s defense in the face of Rebecca Phillips’ challenge. As you might suspect, it’s pretty shoddy.
It is hard to compare the true cost of ticket prices from school to school because you can’t take them at face value. Most every school, including Georgia, requires a donation to buy season tickets. Georgia is at the high end on minimum donation, but after that, the costs at each school vary.
But UGA officials didn’t really address that when they presented their findings to the Athletic Board. They presented material that only ranked the season ticket prices, not the donations. And prior to the vote, the board didn’t really press the point – and after the vote, neither did the media, quite frankly.
It can can be argued, as Phillips and other fans are arguing, that UGA only presented limited data that fit its argument ― that UGA tickets had been (past tense) among the cheapest in the conference and among top-tier football powers. Whether that’s true, however, is hard to say.
McGarity, in a phone interview Tuesday, said it wasn’t discussed at the board meeting “because we don’t have the information” on what funding levels are at every school.
“Misleading?” McGarity said. “We never presented that this was an all-in. Because the data is so hard. There are 13 different ways to do that, and it’s very difficult to gather that information.”
In essence, his rebuttal is that math is hard. He didn’t bother with a complete explanation because it would have been too much work for his department. And because he never explicitly said ticket prices were all that mattered, no one should have assumed his presentation, which only referenced ticket prices, was making that very argument.
We’re suckers, in other words. Hell, the sad thing is that he’s not exactly wrong about that. As Emerson notes, neither the Board nor the media challenged McGarity on this until Phillips spoke up.
Up to this point, all I can do is shake my head ruefully. But, as usual with McGarity, he never quits when he’s ahead. Here’s the outrageous part of his argument:
McGarity, asked his response to that criticism, pointed to the Athletic Board meeting on Jan. 30 and said that it was the only time to address the issue. The previous board meeting was in September; the next one is in May. So, was there any thought on delaying this until 2019?
“Well, I think trying the budget and foreseeing what our expenses will be for fiscal year ’19, we knew that we had to do this to make ends meet,” said McGarity, who then was asked about the school’s reserve funds. “The reserve funds are not intended to get into operating expenses. We do that to a certain degree, minimal, to an amount that is done at this time to offset expenses.”
“The reserve funds are not intended to get into operating expenses.” What? You mean the reserve funds about which you said less than a year ago,
“It’s like anything else in life,” athletics director Greg McGarity said Thursday. “There could be a curveball in your personal life, and my life, that we did not anticipate. So (that’s) the one thing that we don’t have to worry about. It’s just solid business practice. It’s probably the best way to say it. It’s the unexpected.”
But Georgia football and the SEC continue to bring in massive revenues. The SEC last year paid out $39 million to Georgia.
So what is Georgia worried about needing the money for?
“It’s a good practice to have at least six months of operating expenses in case the unforeseen happens, that we don’t know about,” McGarity said. “That’s the financial strength that our athletic board mandated, long before I arrived. So it’s a philosophy that’s been in place for decades. Thank the lord.”
The reserve funds you claimed are tucked into a rainy day fund for emergencies like this?
McGarity pointed to unforeseen expenses that have already occurred: Paying off previous head coach Mark Richt and his staff. That amounted to about $7 million. As for the future, there are still NCAA lawsuits in the system, McGarity pointed out, related to student-athlete pay and concussions. He also pointed to the NCAA in the last couple years allowing schools to pay athletes for cost-of-attendance and for increased meals.
“There are a lot of assumptions that people are making, that this revenue stream is going to be there forever,” McGarity said. “If we end up having to pay student-athletes down the road, where is that money going to come from? … There are a lot of unknowns, and what this allows us to do, and the right way, is to have a buffer there that allows us to cover the unexpected.”
Those reserve funds?
Forget about ’em. The message sent here is that regardless of the circumstances, if the athletic department finds itself needing more money — which is for all intents and purposes a permanent state of mind now — it’s going to hit up our wallets and scrape up whatever justification it can invent to suit its immediate need. I suppose that’ll work as long as it works. But what a way to treat your fan base.
And, boy, does this ring hollow.
McGarity was asked if going back he wished they had done anything differently in presenting the ticket price increase.
“When you can’t draw on specific data, it’s very difficult to present data that is inconclusive,” McGarity said. “I think it just reaches the point that that was not the thrust of the meeting. I don’t think there was anything that we did that was in a dishonest way. Our goal was just to be fully transparent with everyone. We presented it as best we could with the information that was solid and indisputable. The other was just so complex that I don’t know how you get your hands around that. Everyone knows the Hartman Fund was in play. It wasn’t a situation where we were trying to run away from anything at all. It was just strictly focused on the face value of the tickets.”
It’s not that he couldn’t draw on specific data. It’s that he wouldn’t. McGarity chose never to find the data in the first place, because its absence made for an easier presentation. I’ll leave it for you to decide whether that’s dishonest or not.
Certainly it pales in comparison with this.
DawgNation was able to independently confirm Phillips’ information from several schools, including Florida, Auburn and Alabama. No schools that were contacted disputed Phillips’ figures. Phillips also provided copies of her emails and replies from the SEC and other ticket offices she contacted to get her information.
Regardless of McGarity’s probity, if you’re sensible, when it comes to stroking a check to the athletic department going forward, it’s caveat emptor all the way, baby. As I keep saying, that’s a helluva to run a railroad, Greg.