UGA, Kirby Smart OK with moving Auburn game from November

The Georgia Bulldogs finished the 2018 season with a record of 11-3.

Georgia and Auburn are definitely going to move their annual game to an early fall date starting in the 2020 season, and for the foreseeable future. And the Bulldogs and Tennessee also will be switching dates as well.

That was the word from UGA President Jere Morehead and Athletic Director Greg McGarity following the annual winter meeting of the Athletic Association’s board of directors on Wednesday at the Georgia Center for Continuing Education. They confirmed that the the Bulldogs and Tigers, who have played each other annually since 1892 in what’s known as the “Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry,” will no longer face each other in the month of November, which has been the long tradition.

That will now change to the late September/early October spot most recently occupied by Tennessee on Georgia’s schedule. The Vols, in turn, will be moved into the season’s final month.

Meanwhile, it does not appear that the Bulldogs will get to host Auburn at Sanford Stadium in back-to-back years. Georgia had to play at the Tigers’ Jordan-Hare Stadium in consecutive years in 2012-13 to accommodate conference expansion to 14 teams in 2012.

"I doubt that'll ever happen," said McGarity, speaking after the meeting in which his contract was extended by a year. "That was a one-time deal, unless the conference expands again. That may be another discussion. But this was the same situation as seven other schools that had to make changes to the rotation of their games. That was done strictly for conference realignment."

Traditionally, Georgia has closed its football regular seasons with games against three of the school’s biggest rivals — Florida, Auburn and Georgia Tech. The expansion of the schedule to include 12 games affected that rotation and added one or two teams to the mix. But the Bulldogs have ended their conference slate against Auburn in the majority of its 124 seasons of football.

Morehead, Georgia’s president since 2013, seemed taken aback that breaking that tradition might upset some of the Bulldogs’ fans.

“I don’t have much reaction to it,” Morehead said. “As I understand it, the conference has switched Auburn and Tennessee and, you know, they had their reasons for doing it. I suppose if I was looking at the schedules, the keys for me would be asking if the head football coach is happy with the schedule and has our athletic director vetted it properly. All those things have been done.”

Morehead said Georgia’s most paramount concern was maintaining its annual off week to the weekend before the Florida game in Jacksonville.

“Next year we have (byes) at two critical junctures in the season, after Notre Dame and before the Georgia-Florida game,” Morehead said. “Those are things that are really important. But I defer to Coach Smart on those sorts of things.”

McGarity assured that the new schedule setup was fully vetted by fourth-year head coach Kirby Smart.

“Absolutely. Sure,” McGarity said. “Again, I’d just make the statement that if there are any issues that our staff has, we’d voice that. But I think Kirby will be very comfortable with the schedule that you’ll see in 2020.”

so I’d be surprised if that happened. You never say never, but unless certain other things enter the picture, conference expansion or (eliminating) divisional play, that could change the alignment. But that decision was a one-time deal, as it was for three others.”

Auburn’s athletic administration has been vocal about its desire to move the Georgia game from its new rotation in the schedule because it meant the Tigers played both the Bulldogs and Alabama on the road in the same seasons. Auburn beat both Georgia and Alabama at home in 2017, when it represented the Western Division in the SEC Championship Game, but it lost to both the Bulldogs and the Crimson Tide when it played them both on the road last year.

McGarity took umbrage with the notion that he had not advocated on behalf of UGA and that this move was orchestrated by Auburn with only its concerns in mind. McGarity insisted he was involved in the decision at the conference level and discussed the proposed changes in detail with Smart before giving the OK to move the game to early fall.

“Every school advocates for their own desires,” McGarity said. “You get in a room and if there are certain things you want to discuss about moving or changing, there are 14 athletic directors that do that. Everybody advocates for their own. The one thing we don’t do is talk about those conversations. We follow SEC protocol, which is to talk about it in the room when you’re developing schedules.

“There are things we advocate for that nobody ever really knows about. That’s the purpose of going through that exercise. You don’t talk about in public what we talk to the Commissioner (Greg Sankey) and Mark Womack about regarding scheduling. There have been several times they’ve helped us with things that are important to our football coaches.”

Morehead seconded that.

“We work closely with the commissioner on a variety of issues, and we certainly think all these decisions are made in a fair and equitable manner,” Morehead said. “I’m sure there are some other schools that will look at the 2020 schedule and see some things that are much more alarming to them.”

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