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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Evans: We're Prepared for Tough Economy

In the final part of my interview with Georgia Athletics Director Damon Evans, we discussed the current economic problems facing the country and how they will affect the UGA athletics association.

As a bit of background, I highly recommend the following reading:

-- The Athens Banner-Herald discusses Georgia's strong financial situation.

-- The AJC has a story about the reduced contributions to Georgia's "Hartman Fund" this year.

-- Get the Picture discusses the big differences in financial well being between Georgia and Georgia Tech.

-- USA Today notes the ways in which various schools around the country are trying to cut back.

On to the interview...

Hale: The Athens Banner-Herald had a story earlier this week showing an expected $20 million surplus for the UGA athletics association, but around the country, the economic times are tough. Fans are hurting, schools are cutting back wherever they can. How is Georgia dealing with the financial issues surrounding both the college athletics industry and its fans?

Evans: This is what I would say first and foremost is we are in a pretty good financial situation right now, but I say that knowing that we're not going to probably generate as much revenue in certain areas as we have in the past.

Case in point: the football ticket priority program, revenue will be down, or at least that's the way it looks right now in that particular category. We're feeling some of the economic impact. But what I want fans to know, and the people who have contributed money to us, the reason that we're OK and in a decent position right now is because we've been fiscally prudent in the manner with which we handle the financial affairs of this athletics program. I've always wanted the fans and our supporters to know that we're not going to be irresponsible with regard to how we manage the money within the association.

But the impact from the economy -- yes, we think about how it affects fans. We know that there will be less money potentially coming in. We also want to make sure that we understand what's going on with the university as a whole. That's important to me, to us, that we're mindful of the struggles that the institution has. Case in point, the pledge that we made to the institution, while it's not going to fix all their problems, it was to me the appropriate time to do so, to say that if we can lend some help, here's a small piece to show that we support what's going on out there.

It still remains to be seen what the economic outlook is going to be. I think it's going to be worse next year from what I'm hearing. How that impacts us: You may see some of our costs going up with regard to travel. You may see us with regard to some of the facilities that we were going to do, we may have to delay those to a certain extent. That's the way it's going to hit us. A lot of things are uncertain, but just like everybody else right now, even if you have some money, you're still bracing yourself. You're not readily willing to spend that money right now because you're kind of concerned with what's going to happen. So that's kind of where we are.

DH: Obviously with the revenue the athletics association has generating, you aren't ready to start slashing budgets, but what about the large-scale projects that have been discussed, such as the potential expansion to Butts-Mehre?

DE: We're trying to stay on point with some of them. Butts-Mehre is one that we continue to forge ahead with. There hasn't been a definitive approval of doing that at this point in time, but we're moving along according to plans.

But when you have a big master plan like we had, and you're trying to prioritize those projects and say, OK, these are our top six projects -- well, now instead of being able to do those six, you may only be able to do two. That's what I'm looking at at this point in time.

What it means is that some of those grandiose projects may be delayed. They may be delayed for one because of lack of contributions coming in to help support those particular endeavors. They may be delayed because of the potential financing issues that are out there with regard to what the rates are going to be and how do we get money. And third, they may be delayed just because of the fact that we don't feel like we're in as good of a position as we once were from a financial standpoint to do those.

DH: Many other athletics departments are working hard to cut costs right now. Miami is busing players to in-state games next football season. Georgia Tech is trying to cut budget thanks to dwindling attendance. Are there smaller ways in which UGA is reacting to the economic downturn like that?

DE: I'll say this, and this is not a knock against any other institution in that aspect, but I'll answer that question in two parts. I think we have done a good job over the years, even before the economy broke, in how we spent our money.

I think we've always been very mindful whether it's travel, whether it's equipment or what have you on how we go about doing those things. So for us, it hasn't just started now. I don't think to be in the financial position that we're in right now is being a work in progress. It's being positioning ourselves for times like this when things aren't going good. So for this athletic association and those individuals who work under (executive associate athletic director) Frank Crumley, they've been doing a job of being very mindful of should we cut back here or do this, is this too extravagant or is that too much spending? We've been doing that.

Now, what we will do that we may add on to that -- are we like some of the other institutions? Are there different ways in which we can travel for some things that we were doing a little bit differently? Yeah. We may do some things like that. We're looking at flights, we're looking at things of that nature. But we always have. It's not like we were saying, 'Oh everything's great.' We've always done that. I was telling Frank the other day, I said, 'You know what? We're at a time when everyone's talking about changing the way they do things.' I said, 'We need to change the way that we do things, but not as drastically maybe as some others.' Because I think we've always been doing things in a prudent manner, which has allowed us to be prepared for this tough financial time.

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