Price of the Panther is going up

Georgia State football is looking to have a better season than last, kicking off the season with a home game against Kennesaw State on Aug. 20. Photo Submitted by Georgia State Athletics

Riding the momentum of arguably its greatest year to date, Georgia State Athletics enters the 2018-2019 season with a chance to climb higher. In the last academic year, three Georgia State teams won conference championships, and for the first time, the Panthers made both the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament and a football bowl game.

Only 13 programs in the country accomplished this feat and Georgia State was the only Sun Belt Conference team to do so. The bowl game victory and men’s basketball conference tournament championship earned Georgia State the No. 1 athletic program ranking in the Sun Belt by CBS Sports.

Georgia State is retaining plenty of personnel from those teams to improve upon the success from last year. This puts them in a position to bring more hardware to the trophy cases across the campus.

“From a competitive standpoint, [the way to improve] is winning more championships. I think part of that comes with facilities as I think the stadium can attest to in time,” athletic director Charlie Cobb said. “Facilities speak commitment. It’s nothing different than the way the science program on this campus has really grown over the last several years. I don’t think there’s any doubt that the new facilities and new science centers have helped attract faculty, helped attract students.”

Georgia State Stadium opened just before the 2017 football season began and the program reaped the benefits immediately.

Looking forward, there are two more facilities slated to emerge within the next handful of years.

The convocation center is first on the horizon, which will host men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball. A baseball stadium will be built across the street from Georgia State Stadium where Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium stood before its 1997 demolition.

Once Phase II of Georgia State Stadium is completed next summer, the football program will leave the GSU Football Practice Complex for good. The athletic program is considering a few concepts to turn the space into a new soccer facility, according to Cobb.

Before Cobb took the Georgia State job in 2014, he was Appalachian State’s athletic director from 2005-2014. The brightest moment from his Mountaineer tenure was the then-FCS football team’s historic win over No. 5 Michigan in 2007, arguably the biggest upset in college football history.

Georgia State’s bowl win and NCAA Tournament appearance do not compare to the impact of that 2007 win, but they can have similar effects in Atlanta to that of the upset at Appalachian State.

“It set a course that athletics was a pretty positive asset for the university. You go through some metrics or some data points from an admission standpoint. You certainly can’t buy the PR for what a monumental event like that does for a campus,” Cobb said.

“There’s a reason Atlanta United has had the success that they’ve had. People are going to their games and it’s a little bit of chicken and egg. That builds on itself and becomes a cool thing to be at and to attend. It’s no different for our games,” Cobb said.

Divisions and an inaugural championship game are part of Sun Belt football in 2018. The East (Appalachian State, Coastal Carolina, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, Troy) and West (Arkansas State, Louisiana, South Alabama, Texas State, ULM) division winners will play the championship at the home stadium of the team with the highest conference winning-percentage.

The Signal featured wide receiver Penny Hart in the 2018 summer magazine. He was unaware that he led the FBS in receiving yards and touchdowns with 2,281 and 17, respectively. A scenario that he was well aware of is the Sun Belt Football Championship Game being at Georgia State Stadium.

“That’s exciting. It’s that much more motivating to get there,” Hart said.

Cobb said the Panther Athletic Club wrapped up a record-breaking 2017-2018 in his mid-August State of the Panthers address. The more the club succeeds, the more Georgia State gains opportunities to try new ideas.

“If you’re not growing, you’re falling behind and that’s our challenge. We certainly think that we’ve got the ability to do some great things and I’m incredibly proud of our staff,” Cobb said.

Although the 2017-2018 year saw unprecedented good fortune in both men’s basketball and football, many fans missed the action in-person. Average attendance was well below the capacity in both sports’ facilities. The talent is on the field, but more people in the seats can push Georgia State into another atmosphere the program has never seen.

“At the end of the day, it’s going to come down to people investing in our program both from a donation standpoint and ticket sales standpoint to really make us the program that we all want to be,” Cobb said.

A home win on opening day on Aug. 30 against Kennesaw State, less than an hour away, could be a huge step towards reaching that goal. Georgia State fans, especially students, seem to put lots of emphasis around the first home game to determine the amount of support they give the football team the remainder of the season, and rightfully so.

On the cross country side of things, Lotte Meyberg looks to lead her team again. It was hard for opponents to keep up with her All-Sun Belt freshman campaign in 2017. And for men’s soccer, the chance to reach its fourth consecutive Sun Belt championship game is very likely. However, a win in 2018 would be their first in that stretch.

Chloe Howard of women’s golf was the team’s highest finisher in seven of the nine competitions last year, while Harmanprit Kaur logged the other two top finishes. They look be at the forefront of the Panthers’ first conference title since 2010 under the direction of head coach Cathy Mant.

As Georgia State Athletics eases back into another promising year, The Signal will continue to have our eyes on the trajectories of the programs.