Georgia extends contract for AD Josh Brooks, plans two new football practice fields

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ATHENS, Ga. – On the heels of a second straight national football championship, Georgia has rewarded athletic director Josh Brooks a contract extension that ties him to the Bulldogs through at least 2029.

The athletic association board, wrapping up its annual spring meeting Friday at a resort on Lake Oconee, also announced plans for a new track and field facility that will free up space for two more football practice fields.

Brooks’ new contract will increase his salary to $1.025 million a year, with annual raises of $100,000.

The 42-year-old Brooks, who took over the athletic department in 2021 after Greg McGarity retired, called the Georgia job “a dream for me” and said he hopes to spend the rest of his career in Athens.

“I am extremely grateful,” Brooks said. “I got into this business 20-plus years ago as a student equipment manager. My first job at Louisiana-Monroe was making $20,000 a year in football operations.”

The Georgia board approved a fiscal 2024 budget of $175.2 million, a nearly 8% increase from the most recent budget of $162.2 million and the sign of a prosperous program that is flush with money after its success on the gridiron.

The school received approval to move forward with its preliminary plans for a new track and field facility, which will be built across the street from the complex hosting the soccer and and softball teams.

The current track stadium is located adjacent to the Butts-Mehre athletic facility, which hosts the practice fields and training facilities for the football program.

Georgia lost a chunk of its outdoor fields when it built a new indoor practice facility. After the new track and field stadium is completed, the current space will be converted to two full-length, grass football practice fields at the request of coach Kirby Smart.

“He wants to find efficient ways to practice, and there is a lot of truth to the issues we’ve had with our current practice fields,” Brooks said. “There is a lot of strain on our turf facilities staff to keep that field in great shape when half the day it is getting shade, so that has been a challenge as well. For our football program, it is better to practice on grass fields than (artificial) turf, so to be able to have two side-by-side grass fields is huge. It makes for a much more efficient practice.”

The new track and field complex, which will continue to be named Spec Towns Track, will also include an indoor facility, the first of its kind in the state of Georgia.

Florida, Georgia exercise option to keep ‘Cocktail Party’ in Jacksonville through 2026

Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union/USA TODAY NETWORK
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The annual rivalry game between Florida and Georgia will be played in Jacksonville at least through 2025.

The Southeastern Conference schools released a joint statement announcing their decision to exercise a two-year option in the contract to keep playing at TIAA Bank Field, home to the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars. The universities had until June 30 to let the city know if they were picking up or declining the option.

“The City of Jacksonville has been an historic host for one of the great rivalry games in all of college football,” Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin said in a statement. “We are excited to have the game in Jacksonville for another two seasons.”

Georgia coach Kirby Smart has been outspoken about wanting to move the game to campus sites for recruiting purposes. NCAA rules prohibit schools from hosting recruits at neutral sites, although Florida and Georgia are allowed to leave tickets for recruits.

But Smart would prefer face-to-face contact, something he could get if the game was played in Athens.

“I firmly believe that we’ll be able to sign better players by having it as a home-and-home because we’ll have more opportunities to get them to campus,” Smart said last season.

Florida coach Billy Napier, meanwhile, has expressed a desire to maintain the status quo.

“The underlying issue here is the economics,” Napier said earlier this week. “It’s very beneficial for both teams to play the game there.”

The payout from Jacksonville is expected to be roughly $3 million for each school in 2023, a figure that includes $1.25 million guaranteed plus a split of ticket revenue and concession sales. The guaranteed payout for each school increases to $1.5 million in 2024 and 2025.

Georgia also receives $350,000 annually to cover its charter flights, buses and lodging while Florida receives $60,000 because no flights are required.

A Florida home game, by comparison, generates between $2 million and $5 million depending on the opponent. So a home-and-home series currently would bring in less revenue over a two-year span.

“We are pleased with the decision to exercise the option that will keep the game in Jacksonville for 2024 and 2025,” Georgia AD Josh Brooks said in a statement. “We look forward to discussions that I’m sure will continue over the next couple years exploring all the options for 2026 and beyond. We continue to be appreciative of the working relationship we have with the University of Florida and the City of Jacksonville.”

The rivalry could be pushed to campus sites in 2026-27 if Jacksonville agrees on a massive renovation to TIAA Bank Field and the surrounding area. Although few details have been released publicly, one option would be to shutter the NFL stadium for two years and move all games out of the city.

Another option would spread the rebuild over four years and allow games to be played as scheduled, possible with a reduced capacity.

Nothing will be decided until after newly elected Mayor Donna Deegan assumes office on July 1.

The game known as “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” has been played in Jacksonville since 1933 with the exception of a home-and-home series in 1994 and 1995 while the stadium was being gutted and rebuilt in anticipation for the Jaguars’ inaugural season.

Auburn lands ex-Michigan State QB Payton Thorne

Dale Young-USA TODAY Sports

AUBURN, Ala. – Former Michigan State quarterback Payton Thorne is headed to Auburn.

Auburn announced the signing of the two-year starter on Friday, giving new coach Hugh Freeze an experienced quarterback to boost a passing game that ranked among the nation’s worst last season.

Thorne went 16-10 as a starter for the Spartans. He has thrown for 6,494 yards with 49 touchdowns against 24 interceptions.

Spartans coach Mel Tucker had said this spring that the two-time team captain was part of an open competition to take the first snap next season.

Thorne ranks fourth in career touchdown passes at Michigan State, fifth in completion percentage (61) and sixth in passing yards.

He started all 12 games last season, passing for 2,679 yards with 19 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. The fifth-year senior, who has two years of eligibility remaining, led Michigan State to a Peach Bowl victory.

Auburn returns Robby Ashford, who started much of last season after transferring from Oregon, and redshirt freshman Holden Geriner. Onetime starter T.J. Finley has announced his plans to transfer.

Tigers quarterbacks combined for just nine passing touchdowns last season while ranking 119th in passing yards per game, averaging 173. Ashford proved a running threat while completing just 49% of his passes.

Geriner played briefly in only one game as a freshman. Freshman Hank Brown, whom Freeze recruited at Liberty, is also set to join the mix.