One of the biggest questions Athletic Director Charlie Cobb is facing is whether or not to plan for the proposed acquisition of Turner Field by the university.
Cobb has now led Georgia State Athletics through their first football season and is beginning his second semester in charge of the program. Cobb replaced Cheryl Levick who stepped down in May 2014 due to health reasons.
Cobb comes to the university from an identical post at Appalachian State University as well as spending time with North Carolina State’s athletics program. Cobb was notable during his 10 years at App State for overseeing one of the biggest periods of athletics facilities growth for that university. He is poised to lead Georgia State along a similar path.
During his time at App State, Cobb was known for overseeing an investment in Athletics Facilities totaling over $50 million, according to his bio page on App State’s Athletics website. He also led a program which won three Division I FCS National Championships in football as well as saw a 298 percent increase in football season ticket sales.
Arguably, Cobb was brought in to replicate that success for Georgia State on a much larger scale.
One of Georgia State football’s greatest marks against it is attendance. This past year, Georgia State saw the lowest average attendance in the Sun Belt Conference: a measly 11,825 attending in a stadium (at the Georgia Dome which holds over 70,000 at full capacity), according to statistics from SB Nation.
Despite playing four conference home games this year, total attendance for those games was only 47,298. Attendance has dropped 31.73 percent from last year, according to statistics from SB Nation.
Despite the grim statistics, Cobb is upbeat about Georgia State’s football program achieving success in the near future.
“I think the biggest challenge is you got to realize where you are in this building process. I think sometimes you have to be a bit more realistic and realize here’s where we are in the transition of the roster,” Cobb said. “We all know that the competitive nature of football… an 18-year-old kid is going to struggle against a 22 or 23-year-old kid on a consistent basis. It’s amazing what you can do with your body physically if you take care of yourself and you rest and work and do those things and I think that’s what the coaches are keen on,” said Cobb.
It is that air of upbeat pragmatism that Cobb exudes at every turn, as well as a deep interest in the campus and students at Georgia State University. He spoke when being announced as AD about needing to develop an understanding for Georgia State’s dynamics and culture, according to the AJC.
“I’m amazed at the vibrancy, the scope, and the reach of this campus within the city of Atlanta, as well as this region and internationally. I’m incredibly impressed with the diversity of our campus, and I’m really amazed by the level of activity across the world that’s got the fingerprints of Georgia State,” Cobb said to The Signal.
One of the biggest challenges ahead for Cobb and the Athletics program will be deciding what concrete steps to take moving forward, with Georgia State Athletic’s currently in the early process of developing a new strategic plan for the department which will function as a on overarching plan for the department’s development in the coming years.
“We started last week, going back and looking [at] our mission statement, our vision statement, our core values and really making sure it fits where we are… [we are] going to turn our wheels to developing our next strategic plan for Athletics. We’ll settle then on four, five, six thematic areas that we want to look at. The facility piece will obviously be one of them. The main one will be the student-athlete experience,” said Cobb.
Cobb is a strong proponent of the student athlete experience, what he calls “the Georgia State Experience, this triangle of athletic success, academic success and social responsibility.”
Cobb emphasizes his commitment to seeing his athletes successful not only on the field but in the classroom as well.
“One of the things I’ve been incredibly proud of here is there is a great tradition of academic success with athletics here. It starts with the coaches recruiting the right type of kids. We obviously need to put resources towards it from an academic standpoint. Study hall leaders, tutors [and] our academic staff does a tremendous job of making sure kids are getting their degrees,” Cobb said.
Turner Field development
President Mark Becker announced a $300 million dollar proposal for the purchase and redevelopment of the Turner Field property once the Atlanta Braves vacate the property ahead of their 2016 move to SunTrust Park in Cobb County. Cobb was very secure in moving forward with planning for a possible Turner Field Athletics Facility.
“I think it’s safe to say that that is a win-win,” Cobb said.
The Turner Field project would have a massive impact on the growth of Georgia State’s footprint in downtown Atlanta. Becker also proposed a 30,000-seat football stadium as well as relocating the facilities at Panthersville, a 20-acre facility that currently houses the Baseball, Softball, and Men’s and Women’s Soccer teams, according to the AJC. Included as well would be new Athletics offices, locker facilities, retail, residential and student housing.
Cobb commented on some of the proposed facilities.
“I think there’s a lot of it to plan out, but obviously it becomes the epicenter for us. You got to have office space, locker space, academic space. We’ve certainly talked about being able to pull the facilities we have at Panthersville and put them down in the parking lot and also being able to replicate the footprint of the Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium for Georgia State Baseball,” Cobb said.
The concern many students may have is what the strategic plan looks like without the Turner Field development. The Braves vacating of the property has led to a very public dispute between the City of Atlanta and Fulton County over the sale of the property. This dispute was unresolved as of last December as a resolution obtained by an open search of Fulton County records was considered but not approved by the Fulton County Board of Commissioners.
“Request approval of a Resolution supporting the cooperative effort with the City of Atlanta to explore the future of Turner Field and to devise a plan for prospective use of Turner Field; to propose establishment of a joint committee to cooperatively establish goals and timetables and to review and approve plans related to Turner Field and the surrounding area; and for other purposes.” – Fulton County Board of Commissioners Agenda Item Summary: Item #14-1037
With the concern that the Turner Field development may become indefinitely delayed or be scrapped altogether, the Athletics Department is without a backup plan. When asked, Cobb admitted that a contingency plan for facilities development that was not focused on the Turner Field development did not exist at the time of the interview.
“I don’t know; I hadn’t thought about that one. I can’t answer that one… The good news is with strategic plans, there’s many, many people involved in it. There’s not just one person’s documents; it’s many many people,” Cobb said. “So that’s a great question. I’ll take a note and make that part of what our discussions are. This is obviously Plan A, but what’s Plan B?”
The previous strategic plan included facilities developments that included a $2.5 million Football Strength and Conditioning facility attached to the current MLK Practice Fields, a $5.5 million Sports Performance Center and a $3.875 million Academic Performance Center. Cobb commented on those proposals.
“The first part about it is all of that was done before Turner Field was even on the radar screen. So with the thought of the pursuit of the Turner Field project completely trumps anything that was done previously; so we’re going to walk down that road. We’re trying to get construction started on a weight room for the football program; it won’t be to the scale of what was originally presented,” Cobb said.
Despite the precariousness of Georgia State’s position in regards to the Turner Field acquisition, Cobb remains optimistic that the right steps are being taken and emphasized the importance of the students in any meaningful development of Georgia State Athletics.
“I’m unabashed in the fact that I believe that when students show up to an event, it gives validity to whatever the event is,” Cobb said. “Then the non-students — the older folks like myself and others — we show up because if you guys are having a great time, then there’s obviously something pretty exciting going on.”