Florida and Georgia are contractually obligated to meet in Jacksonville every year until the 2021 season and while it appears unlikely that the series is moving away from the city, Kirby Smart’s recent comments suggest his program may be at least considering an end to the longstanding tradition of meeting the Gators on a neutral field.
With the Bulldogs loading up with home-and-home nonconference games in the coming years, Smart’s program would conceivably lose a home date those seasons, which results in one less opportunity to host recruits in Athens for an official visit. SEC teams are already not allowed to host recruits off-campus, meaning both Florida and Georgia are not allowed to host recruits at the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party in Jacksonville. With the recruiting calendar shifting thanks to the Early Signing Period, Smart appears concerned that his program may not have enough attractive home dates in some seasons to host recruits.
During his Wednesday appearance on “The Paul Finebaum Show,” the Georgia coach was asked to share his thoughts on playing Florida every year in Jacksonville.
“Nothing has been decided, there’s no decision being made, it’s just always something that we are thinking about,” Smart said on the show. “When you look at recruiting now, the model they have now, December is the Early Signing date so official visits have become really, really important. We have official visits happening in June, we have official visits in the season and we lose a really big opportunity to have official visits come to our campus, so it’s a tough pill to swallow.
“We are always looking in the future to give ourselves the best advantage. The other SEC teams don’t have that. They have the home games they have to be able to recruit to. It’s something we think about but nothing has been decided.”
Smart makes a good point but it should be noted that Texas A&M and Arkansas annually play in Arlington’s AT&T Stadium and the Razorbacks have also announced annual trips to Little Rock in the coming years, although every other year that trip will be for the spring game, and neither team can host recruits for any of those off-campus games. So there are some SEC teams that do exactly what Florida and Georgia do by meeting in Jacksonville.
“I think we have to look at it from 10,000 feet above and say ‘What is best for our program?’ Mainly because of recruiting,” Smart continued during his appearance on the show. “We lose that weekend. If you took LSU-Alabama game and said you can’t have any recruits, LSU or Alabama, how would they feel about that? That was one of the biggest recruiting events that we had. Well, [the Florida game] is one of the biggest games, the Florida-Georgia game, it’s something we have to think about.”
Moving on from his stance on that specific topic, Smart was asked how satisfied he was with the direction of his UGA program.
“Yeah, I think Georgia can go further,” he responded. “The sky is the limit when you talk about the facilities we have, the administration we have, the university, the location, there are a lot of things right about where we are and who we are. We know that so the expectations are real. They’ve always been there, I’m not happy with where we are, I’m happy with where we are headed.”
Coming off back-to-back SEC Championship appearances, Smart appears pleased with Georgia’s progress, even if the road to get there goes through Jacksonville.
Photo credit — Steven Colquitt, UGA Athletics