Some alarming news dropped Tuesday afternoon courtesy of a new spending cap from the Board of Regents that could affect the Georgia Southern Eagles and Georgia State Panthers.
The board, which oversees every large public university in Georgia, passed new rules at a meeting that limit what percentage of athletic department funding can come from student fees.
The cap is different for various levels of athletics. UGA and Georgia Tech are capped at just 10 percent, but both fall well under that limit (ranking at 2.8 and 7.2 percent, respectively, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution).
Programs at the level of GS and GSU are capped at 65 percent, meaning at least 35 percent of athletic department revenue must come from somewhere besides student fees. Some smaller schools are allowed 85 percent.
Georgia Southern falls below the cap already, so the Eagles should be okay. State, however, does not. The Panthers last year funded almost 68 percent of their budget from students.
And there's the big scary headline: "GSU would have to cut $700,000 from the budget this year!!"
If you know me, you know I'm a Southern grad and diehard fan who doesn't much care for State. But I think they'll be just fine thanks to a few mitigating factors.
For one, they'll have four years to get into compliance with the new cap. There's no imminent cut coming and we're talking a gap of a little less than three percentage points.
GSU brought in a shade under $29 million in revenue last season, according to USA Today. Modest gains over the next four seasons could get them within the needed number.
Where could this come from? Well, the pay for payout games is rising pretty fast (State got $900,000 to play Oregon in 2015; they'll get $1.3 million to play Alabama in 2020) and perhaps fan support will tick up as well. A large donation or two could also erase the problem. And I know I'll get flack for this, but if worse came to worse a cut of $700,000 to a $29 million budget would be tough, but not crippling.
What this will do is prevent State from vastly increasing its budget by just enlisting more students. The school is set to absorb Georgia Perimeter College, instantly boosting enrollment from roughly 33,000 to more than 54,000. If those "new" students paid at or near the same fees as current GSU enrollees, the athletic department would receive a vast, unnecessary windfall of cash. That probably wouldn't have happened in any case, but certainly won't now.
Another caveat to the new rules holds that athletic department spending cannot grow more than 5 percent per year. This, I believe, goes even for Georgia and Georgia Tech, which is one reason not to worry too much about it. Obviously 5 percent growth is a good bit higher than inflation and should T. Boone Pickens drop $100 million on Georgia State or Georgia Southern I wouldn't put it past the board to allow exceptions.
Looking at the USA Today numbers again, State's expenses are listed at about $27.5 million. They'd be allowed to boost that by more than $1.3 million next year, and by almost $6 million over a four-year period.
Believe it or not, I've actually been reading about this issue for some time through a Georgia Southern message board, although I always dismissed it as unsubstantiated gossip (score one for internet rumors!). Anyway, while a few regents are saying they'd like to lower the cap further down the line it's not time to panic yet.
Here's what Georgia State athletic director Charlie Cobb said when asked about the cap: "When the time comes, we will be in compliance."
There's no reason to think he's wrong.