Richt Lobbies for Indoor Practice Facility

ATHENS -- As Georgia scrambled to find a dry place to practice Tuesday, Coach Mark Richt's mind turned to the possibility of a facility that would take the worry out of rainy days.

"It'd be nice to have an indoor facility," Mark Richt said. "Right now, that's No. 1 on my list."

A multi-purpose indoor facility, which would cost 10s of millions of dollars, would include a practice field for the No. 3 Bulldogs as well as a track with seating for events. Georgia (1-0) had to bus to the Atlanta Falcons' indoor training facility in Flowery Branch on Tuesday to prepare for Saturday's game against South Carolina (1-0, 1-0 SEC).

It was the Bulldogs' second trip this season to Flowery Branch and it's possible they will have to go again today. Georgia also cut one workout short due to weather.

Each round trip to the Falcons' facility takes about two-and-a-half hours of the team's day, Richt said. However, there is little option, he said. The Bulldogs can practice in the Ramsey Center on campus, but they have to work on hardwood floors, making it impossible to run full speed drills or have any contact.

"If we had to spend today and tomorrow in the Ramsey Center, we wouldn't get better," he said. "It's early in the year, and we need to get better. It's very difficult to get better if you don't get on a field of play."

Georgia, Florida and Vanderbilt are the only Southeastern Conference schools without indoor facilities, Richt said.

"Everyone else has one. Does that mean we need to have one? Maybe, maybe not," Georgia athletic director Damon Evans said. "I asked someone at Kentucky how often they used theirs and they said hardly at all."

There are currently no plans for an indoor facility and no timetable for one, Evans said.

"We have to take a look at the financial end of something of that magnitude," he said. "Obviously, it's important to our football coach. I'm not going to say it wouldn't be beneficial, but I think we have to weigh everything. Because (Richt) has a strong interest, I think it's something we should explore."

During Jim Donnan's tenure at Georgia, the school drew up plans for an indoor facility that would have cost between $25 and $30 million. Since the facility Richt envisions would be more elaborate than that and the rising cost of construction means " it would cost a lot more" now, Evans said.

That's a huge chunk of money for an Athletic Association already $92 million in debt. Since Richt took over the football program, Georgia has spent $50 million on improvements and expansions to Sanford Stadium and more than $5 million on renovations to the Bulldogs' current practice facilities.

"We've made some pretty strong commitments to football, and I know from talking to Mark that he feels good about those," Evans said.

The fact that the school would like to make renovations to Stegeman Coliseum and the dire financial picture of the university as a whole have to be accounted for when thinking about building an indoor facility, Evans said. State budget cuts might cost Georgia's academic side $16 million in the future.

"I think it's important for us as an Athletic Association to be somewhat sensitive to what is going on with the total university in terms of budget cuts," Evans said. "That's not to say I won't push things forward, but, at the same time, I think we would be sensitive to what is going around us."

Evans said no decision has been made about whether Stegeman Coliseum improvements or a practice facility would be the top priority if money becomes available.

"If 100 million dollars fell out of the sky that would make it very easy," he said. "I would say let's tear up the ground and get busy."

If that happens, Richt has the plans already sketched out in his head. He said he would like to have a new weight room on the bottom floor, administrative offices on the second floor and a dining hall that overlooked the practice facility on the third floor. The dining hall would be open to all UGA students, he said. A parking complex could also be built along with the facility to alleviate some of the school's parking problems, Richt said.

"I'm not exactly sure where it sits in the big picture for our Athletic Association, but I know that if somebody wanted to earmark dollars for an indoor facility, I don't think the association would say no," he said.

Evans confirmed that having one or more donors contribute large amounts of money specifically for an indoor facility would be the quickest part toward getting it done.

"I'm not going to speculate on time because you never know what is going to happen," he said. "If a donor comes in, it could be sooner rather than later."

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