GREENSBORO — The University of Georgia announced plans to build a new athletics facility at its spring athletics board meeting, and no one could be more excited than Kirby Smart.
Smart, the Bulldogs’ two-time CFP Championship coach, made a surprise appearance to voice his support for the new track facility project that will be built on S. Milledge Ave. near the baseball and softball complexes of UGA.
Georgia has spent more than $240 million on football facility upgrades since hiring Smart, and the eighth-year head coach explained on Friday how much the addition of a new practice field grass in place of the current track is an important step.
“What does this mean for football? For us, we’re one of only two SEC programs that doesn’t have side-by-side natural-grass football fields,” Smart said at the Ritz-Carlton Lodge on Lake Oconee, site of the Spring Annual Meetings. of the UGA Board of Athletics.
“We have a state-of-the-art indoor (soccer) facility, but it’s a grass pitch and it’s next to our grass pitch,” Smart said.
“The 2023 NFL PA study came out with a study of natural turf versus artificial turf, and injuries are higher on artificial turf than on natural turf. So one of the great advantages of this is that we will have the possibility of having two grass training pitches side by side.
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Smart said the economy was also involved, as UGA spent $1.36 million sodding and re-turfing its one-grass training ground from February 2022 to February 2023.
“We’re on it all the time,” Smart said. “Why do we want to train on grass instead of grass? It’s safer.
Georgia athletic director Josh Brooks said the school has identified land on S. Milledge Avenue — just outside the Athens Loop — where future outdoor and indoor track facilities could be built.
“Which would be really nice, because then you’d almost have what I call in my mind almost an Olympic village of these sports in that area, so it’s going to be really unique,” Brooks said.
“We have two programs in athletics and football that have been hugely successful…but with successful programs we don’t want to stagnate, we want to continue to grow,” he said. “At this time, our track facility is unable to accommodate a major event; we had to turn down the SEC meeting this year because we don’t have the space around to really host it the right way.
Brooks and Smart noted how track athletes from Georgia have to travel to Birmingham, Alabama, to race on an indoor track.
Brooks said the next step in the process is for UGA to find an architect. Brooks said it was too early to provide any kind of timeline or expected costs.
Georgia sophomore track coach Caryl Smith Gilbert was with his team at a regional meet in Jacksonville, Fla., and was unable to attend, but recorded a video presentation thanking the school for their support.
“This project will continue to elevate our athletics program to peak in the SEC and NCAA championships,” said Smith Gilbert. “Our own dedicated space off South Milledge will provide our student-athletes the opportunity to train throughout the year. It will bring young people to our campus to compete in AAU and USA track and field events, as well as other junior events, and give us space to host SEC and NCAA championship competitions.
“It will be a truly one-of-a-kind facility and the only indoor track in the state of Georgia.”
Smart likes the idea of other great track and field athletes, some of whom play football, coming to Georgia.
“Since we’ve been in Georgia, we’ve had four or five athletes competing on the track,” Smart said. “So I have no more interest in all our sports than in athletics; it is the one that has the most direct impact on the football line-up.