Georgia coach Kirby Smart mum on Jacksonville negotiations report
ATHENS — Kirby Smart didn’t have much to say this week when asked about reports that the City of Jacksonville is close to securing an extension for the Georgia-Florida rivalry to continue to be played in the Sunshine State.
“All I can say is there’s ongoing discussions,” Smart said on Tuesday. “I’ll be dead honest with you, I am focused on our team, making sure our team is trying to improve and get better in every facet of it and that’s my single-minded focus.
“It’s not single-minded focus on Florida. It’s not single-minded focus on Jacksonville. It’s single-minded focus on us. We’re all trying to go to the doctor right now.”
The No. 10-ranked Bulldogs (6-1, 3-1 SEC) play the No. 7-ranked Gators (7-1, 4-1) at 3:30 p.m. on Nov. 2 at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville.
The Georgia-Florida game is currently contracted to be played in Jacksonville, Fla., through 2021, per the 5-year deal in place.
UGA athletic director Greg McGarity would only confirm that “discussions are ongoing.”
It’s an issue that has split fans and boosters at the University of Georgia. Some want the series to be a home-and-home, and others enjoy making the annual trip to Jacksonville.
Smart has made it known on several occasions there are competitive advantages to making the rivalry a home-and-home series.
That would give Georgia the same number of SEC home games to recruit to (8) every two years as the schools the Bulldogs are trying to compete with for championship players.
“We’re trying to figure out how to get better,” Smart said during the offseason, “and the best way to get better is to have opportunities to present in front of those kids.”
A 2015 study showed the city of Jacksonville gets an estimated $35 million impact from the SEC rivalry game being played there.
The University of Georgia, meanwhile, gets about $3.2 million more every other year (pro-rated $1.6 annually) from Jacksonville to play the game 339 miles away from is campus at a stadium 71 miles from Gainesville.
“We give up our opportunity to have one of our best recruiting days, (and) if that averages one player a year, that’s four or five good players,” Smart said on his radio show last year.
UGA President Jere Morehead cited tradition as a reason to continue to have Georgia travel to Florida every year to play the Gators and give up a recruiting weekend.
“We’ve been playing the game in Jacksonville since 1933 so I think we need to keep that longstanding tradition in mind,” Morehead told DawgNation at the SEC Spring Meetings in Destin, Fla. “But we’re obviously going to listen to Coach Smart, and we’ll see how the negotiations proceed.”
According to an Athens Banner-Herald report, the City of Jacksonville is closing in on securing an extension to hold on to the marquee matchup.
Jacksonville’s director of public affairs Nikki Kimbleton, who serves as a spokesperson for Mayor Lenny Curry, told the Athens newspaper a deal could be finalized as early as “next week.”
A DawgNation source confirmed on Thursday that the deal is close to being finalized, but there are still some negotiating points on the table.
Florida legend Steve Spurrier said more than once he hopes the game stays in Jacksonville, as it’s an advantage for the Gators.
“When I was coaching at Florida, I said it’s to our advantage to get on the bus, and they’ve got to get on the airplane, and we’re in the state of Florida,” Spurrier said last summer in Greensboro, Ga.
Spurrier later added on the SEC Network that, “I can see the Georgia side, to tell you the truth. It would be very similar to the Gators going to (Mercedes-Benz Stadium) in Atlanta and Georgia to play there every year.”