Saturday, August 13, 2022

SEC Media Days 2022: Why Kirby Smart is advocating for Georgia vs. Florida game to move from Jacksonville

As Georgia coach Kirby Smart enters his seventh season fresh off a national title, he’s using the clout he’s accumulated to advocate for a big change in one of his program’s top rivalries. Speaking on Wednesday at SEC Media Days, Smart made the case for why the annual Georgia-Florida game should no longer be played at a neutral site in Jacksonville, Florida, and should instead be played on home campuses.

It should come as no surprise that recruiting is his motivation for seeking what would be a historic shift in the rivalry. 

“I’m competing against guys all across the SEC who host kids at their biggest game,” Smart said on the SEC Network set. “When Auburn plays Alabama, guess where the recruits are. They’re at Auburn. When LSU and Alabama play, guess where the biggest recruits want to go. It’s an opportunity for us to bring these kids who fly in from all over the country. What game do they want to see? They’d like to see Georgia play Florida but they can’t do that.”

Because the Florida-Georgia game is played at Jacksonville’s TIAA Bank Field, it means the Bulldogs have just three SEC home games every other season under the league’s current eight-game scheduling model. Since Georgia is also playing a neutral-site opener this season against Oregon in Atlanta this season, Georgia has just six home games in 2022, which translates to fewer opportunities for hosting recruits on official visits.

The game has been played in Jacksonville since 1933, with the only exception coming in 1994 and 1995 during a stadium construction project in Jacksonville. Given Jacksonville’s location just south of dividing line between the two states, the crowd has historically been split close to 50-50 with Georgia fans from the southern part of the state taking advantage of a short drive to see their team play.

As for the Florida side of things, first-year Gators coach Billy Napier was non-committal when asked his opinion of the game’s location as he made his SEC Media Days debut Wednesday. Napier, who worked with Smart on the Alabama staff from 2013-15, said the issue is “above my pay grade.”

“I think the big thing is I want to experience the game first,” Napier said. “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. A home-and-home obviously would be fantastic. But there’s also some tradition there, a rivalry there. Time will tell.”

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