Kirby Smart: Decision not to go to White House ‘nothing political’

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Credit: Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

Credit: Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

Georgia's head coach Kirby Smart holds up the Coaches’ Trophy  during the celebration of the Bulldogs going back-to-back to win the 2022 National Championship at Sanford Stadium, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023, in Athens. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

The decision by the Georgia football team to decline an invitation from President Joe Biden to celebrate the team’s national championship at the White House was “nothing political,” according to head coach Kirby Smart.

The Bulldogs were among the teams holding NCAA titles from the 2022-23 season invited to visit with the president and first lady Jill Biden on June 12 for what is being called “College Athlete Day.” But the school’s athletic association released a statement Tuesday saying the team’s schedule doesn’t have room for the trip.

“The University of Georgia first received on May 3 an invitation for the Bulldog football team to visit the White House on June 12,” the statement said. “Unfortunately, the date suggested is not feasible given the student-athlete calendar and time of year.”

Smart, speaking Wednesday morning before playing in a pro-am golf event in Alabama, said the demands of hosting youth camps and recruits on campus created a conflict with the scheduling.

“It’s a tough deal,” Smart said as reported by the Athens Banner-Herald. “Timeline-wise it didn’t work, Traditionally, I went three times when I was at Alabama and it was right after the game. That didn’t happen. We didn’t have a date set, and we’ve got 700 kids at a football camp at our place June 6, 7, 8. It’s the No. 1 time for recruiting for football coaches. You’ve got 600 to 700 kids coming to your campus, you can’t leave to go to the White House and have no one on your campus. So the time just didn’t work out. There was nothing political about it. I’ve been before. It’s very educational. It’s a great experience.”

The Bulldogs’ decision not to travel to Washington comes after months of uncertainty and some criticism of the White House from Georgia fans and Republican leaders. They faulted the Biden administration for failing to act sooner to invite the back-to-back national football champions for a visit.

The entire Georgia congressional delegation even sent a letter to the White House in January asking the team to be recognized “at your earliest convenience.”

The White House offered several dates earlier this year, said an official briefed on the scheduling back-and-forth, but they weren’t able to reach an agreement. According to UGA spokesperson Greg Trevor, “no date was ever provided to the university until the White House extended the offer on May 3 for a June 12 event.”

The Bidens will host the NCAA men’s and women’s champions at the White House on May 26. The University of Connecticut men’s team and the Louisiana State women’s team won national titles in April. The Biden administration has not announced which collegiate teams will attend the June 12 event.

Several key Republicans reacted to the news that Georgia rejected the invitation Tuesday.

“I don’t blame them. Go Dawgs,” tweeted U.S. Rep. Mike Collins who represents Athens.

“Go Dawgs!” was the response from former U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler.

“Dragging their feet on inviting to the White House the champions in the state Biden only won by 11,000 votes is another dumb move,” wrote conservative commentator Erick Erickson.

During his first two years in office, Biden hosted championship winning professional teams at the White House, including the Braves in September.

Over the last five years, two college football champions attended White House ceremonies one week after winning the title – and the other had its ceremony in April. Former President Donald Trump served McDonalds to Clemson in their January 2019 visit to Washington, DC while LSU visited the White House in January 2020 after defeating Clemson in the championship game.

In 2018, Alabama’s White House championship ceremony was held in April – three months after its 26-23 overtime victory over Georgia in January at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. COVID-19 protocols at the White House prevented Alabama (2020) and Georgia (2021) from having championship celebrations in Washington.

-Staff reporters Greg Bluestein, Tia Mitchell and Chip Towers contributed to this article.

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