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Georgia State: ‘No written plans’ for FBS move
Though Georgia State athletics is expanding rapidly with the addition of football last year and sand volleyball announced as a new sport in 2013, athletic director Cheryl Levick is trying to make sure the growth is healthy, even as the surrounding landscape shifts at a dizzying pace.
Levick, hired in 2009 and charged with developing a football program, among other things, said she has no plans to move Georgia State to FBS (formerly Division I-A) anytime soon. She is more concerned with trying to renovate old facilities, build new ones and figure out how to best take care of athletes while enhancing the game-day experience for the students and fans.
On Tuesday in an hour-long interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution she discussed the state of Georgia State athletics. Some questions and answers have been paraphrased. In some cases, similar topics were asked during different portions of the interview. Those topics have been grouped together.
Q: Some of the fans have wanted Georgia State to be on the FBS level, yesterday. Do you have plans to eventually move Georgia State up to the FBS level?
A: My immediate charge as athletic director is to grow this football program to the point where it’s ready for [Colonial Athletic Association] football next year. That’s what I’m working every day to do, to get this program ready. We have a five-year strategic plan that focuses on getting, not only football, but all of our teams to the top tier of the CAA.
At a point within the strategic plan, if [GSU president Mark Becker] says, “Cheryl, let’s look at other options,” I’ll be glad to. But right now I need to stay focused on my charge, which is getting this program to the top tier of the CAA.
There are no written plans, no feasibility study [on a move to FBS]. I think it’s smart to say that everyone is watching the realignment of these conferences closely.
Q: The CAA, because it is an FCS-level conference and operates below most people’s radar, has been very fluid the past few years, with schools dropping off and being added. What is your take on the future of the CAA?
A: CAA football meets as a group and looks at the membership, who’s coming in and who’s coming out. It seems with Old Dominion coming in, us coming in, we are looking at where Villanova is going to end up. At that point in time, we have to make sure that we have a viable, healthy CAA football conference.
Q: The other big question is, are there stadium plans?
A: We love the Georgia Dome. It is our home, it is within walking distance. So there are no plans for a stadium. We might look down the road at is there some sort of indoor practice facility that we need to build. But right now, the weather is good down here … [and] I’m not sure it’s worth the price tag. Right now we are very happy with playing in the Georgia Dome. It’s also a huge recruiting advantage. High school players love coming to the Dome, playing in a pro setting, it’s been a real advantage for us.
Q: It seems like this desire to move to FBS doesn’t seem to be one of your primary concerns right now. Is that fair?
A: It takes about five years to really get this football program up and running and where we want it go. We are going through growing pains right now. It really does take five years of very strong recruiting, very successful recruiting to get a football program up and running. You have to stay very focused with what you are doing and where you are going.
Q: What is the fund-raising goal that you need to accomplish your five-year strategic plan?
A: We are still working on the cost analysis for that. We have a master facility plan, and we have rough estimates on what each of those might cost. If indeed we are trying to move out of Panthersville down here, we need land. We are trying to look at if there are viable land options we can afford. If we build sand volleyball, redo the Sports Arena, move baseball downtown, move softball downtown, move soccer downtown, we are looking at a minimum of $80 million dollars without the cost of land.
Q: Do you have a rough estimate on the renovation of the Arena?
A: Yes, it’s about $37 million if we do luxury suites, ticket plaza, hall of fame, concourse, store, the works. Top of the line.
Q: Have you and football coach Bill Curry talked about a succession plan when his five-year contract ends?
A: We agreed to wait until after the season and have further discussions about the contract. It’s too distracting during the season.
Q: Is football paying for itself?
A: The financial formula for football, the student fees cover a lot of the scholarships and the operating budget, as planned and voted on. For everything that’s game day, Georgia Dome rental, to buses for students to come to games, we are trying to balance that through merchandise revenue, ticket revenue, suite sales and game guarantees. Last year we had $1 million in revenue and spent about $998,000 for all the game-day activities.
Q: What evidence do you see that Georgia State is becoming a football school?
A: First thing I notice is the excitement on campus around game day. Particularly that first week of school when all the freshmen are in, we have the pep rally and are getting ready for that first game, the campus is vibrant with activities. The kids … want a football program; they want a good team. That’s what you see and feel with football. … We have had success with fund-raising as a part of football. In our first year, we had a $1.5 million gift from Pete Petit. This year we’ve had a $1 million gift from R. Charles Loudermilk [earmarked toward a new weightlifting facility], so there are wonderful donors that believe in football, believe in Bill Curry and want to make sure we are successful.
Q: How does that fund-raising compare to pre-football?
A: The first year I came here, we had a raised a total of less than $50,000.
By Doug Roberson, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution