ATHENS — When it comes to the apparent paradox over whether Georgia should play Florida in Jacksonville every year, it really comes down to simple math. At last check, 45 million is greater than 19 million.
Considerably so, in fact.
Forty-five million dollars – at least – is how much money UGA will receive over the next 10 years if it continues to play the game in Jacksonville under the current agreement it has with the University of Florida and the city of Jacksonville. Nineteen million dollars is how much Georgia’s athletic department will bring in from the game over that span if it were to be played home-and-home, as coach Kirby Smart and a portion of the fan base think it should be.
But, of course, it’s not as simple as that. As one administrator told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “there is no room for logic in this conversation. This is an emotional issue for fans.”
And for coaches.
Georgia’s annual game against Florida in Jacksonville came up again at SEC Media Days last week at the College Football Hall of Fame. Specifically, SEC Network commentator and former Gators quarterback Tim Tebow brought it up to Smart during a live, on-air segment.
At that time, Smart reiterated that his only problem with playing the game in Jacksonville every year is that neither Georgia nor Florida is allowed to host recruits during that weekend. So, effectively, the schools are giving up one recruiting weekend per year.
“For me, I’m recruiting against guys in the SEC who host their kids at their biggest games,” Smart said. “When Auburn plays Alabama, guess where the recruits are? When LSU and Alabama play, that’s where the biggest recruits want to go. It’s an opportunity to bring those kids who fly in from all over the country. What game do they want to see Georgia play? They’d like to see Georgia play Florida. They can’t do that.”
Actually, they can.
Recruits can request and receive tickets from either school and attend the game in Jacksonville. There simply is no opportunity for coaches or school personnel to show off their respective campuses or offer their well-rehearsed sales pitches.
Both schools have requested waivers from the NCAA to be able to visit or at least interact with prospects in Jacksonville. To date, no such exception has been granted.
Meanwhile, it’s not like it has been a fruitless slog for the Bulldogs. Georgia’s average national recruiting ranking of its past six classes is 2.3, with two No. 1 finishes.
As for the on-field competition, Smart admitted it’s a nonfactor. Georgia leads the series, which has been played in Jacksonville annually since 1933, 54-43-2. The game went home-and-home in 1994 and ‘95 when the Gator Bowl was demolished and became what is known now as TIAA Bank Field. Florida won those games 52-17 in Athens and 52-14 in Gainesville.
“It’s not an advantage for anybody,” Smart said. “Look at the history of it. The team with the better players, the better team, usually wins that game.”
Florida won 18 of 21 games from 1990 to 2010, while Georgia went 15-4 from 1971-89. The longest winning streak for either team is seven games. Currently, the defending national champion Bulldogs have won four of the past five.
Not surprisingly, the people of Jacksonville are adamant about keeping the game there.
“Kirby Smart values recruiting, which he should. He’s going to fight for what he believes is the best interest in recruiting football players for his football team,” Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry told Jacksonville sports radio station 1010XL. “We think there’s a balance there and that both schools have great recruiting opportunities right here in Jacksonville. And we’re going to fight to keep that football game here, working the relationships with the athletic directors, and every single donor and booster at both universities.”
Neither Curry nor Georgia athletic director Josh Brooks would comment for this story.
Another option is rotating the game between home-and-home and Jacksonville and/or Atlanta, which has been discussed. Peach Bowl President Gary Stokan has said many times his organization would be interested in hosting Georgia-Florida on a regular or semi-regular basis at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Bulldogs certainly would be amenable to that, but the game would have to be underwritten in some way to keep it affordable.
That, too, would require breaking of tradition, not to mention a very lucrative, long-standing agreement between the schools and the city of Jacksonville.
Meanwhile, all this discussion remains moot while the SEC deliberates its scheduling model after Oklahoma and Texas join. It’s assumed Florida and Georgia would remain permanent rivals, but that’s undetermined at this point.
GEORGIA-FLORIDA FACTS VS. FICTION
CONTRACT LENGTH: Current four-year contract runs through 2023 with option to extend through 2025.
CONTRACT TERMS: Each school gets $1 million from city of Jacksonville, with automatic annual escalators of $250,000 ($5.5M total through 2023). Also, each school receives a $60,000 annual travel stipend. UGA receives an additional $350,000 per year to compensate for charter-jet service from Athens.
FINANCIAL IMPACT: Georgia and Florida will net approximately $45 million each over 10 years in the current neutral-site arrangement. The Bulldogs would clear approximately $19 million over the same period playing Florida home-and-home. That’s based on an average net of $3.8 million per game at Sanford Stadium every other year. … Mayor Lenny Curry claims a $35 million economic impact for the Greater Jacksonville area.
SERIES RECORD: Georgia leads 54-43-2/47-42-1 in Jacksonville.
JACKSONVILLE: Played there annually since 1933 with exception of two years (1994-95).
RECRUITING: Each school is allowed to provide tickets to recruiting prospects who request them. Currently, neither coaches nor school officials are allowed to “host” prospects.
“It’s an opportunity for us to bring these kids that fly in from all over the country. What game do they want to come see Georgia play? They’d like to see Georgia play Florida. They can’t do that. It’s very important. Recruiting is very important. I just can’t get a Florida coach to agree with me about it.”
– Georgia coach Kirby Smart
“I want to experience the game first, right? I’d like to see that game in Jacksonville, experience that game, before I have an opinion on that. There’s a lot of credibility to both, right? The home-and-home obviously would be fantastic, but there’s also some tradition there, there’s a rivalry there. Time will tell. I agree, that’s above my pay grade. But I’m looking forward to the opportunity to participate in the game.”