Kirby Smart on Georgia-Florida Jacksonville setting: ‘we miss opportunities

JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA - NOVEMBER 02: A general view of TIAA Bank Field during a game between the Florida Gators and the Georgia Bulldogs on November 02, 2019 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

ATHENS — Kirby Smart is sticking with his sentiment that Georgia playing its annual rivalry game with Florida in Jacksonville leads to missed opportunities

“All I ever say is that the home atmosphere we have is incredible, and the ability to bring recruits in is big,” Smart said on his Tuesday Zoom call, asked his thoughts on the location of the Georgia-Florida game through 2023.

“I stand by the fact that we miss opportunities and everyone else in the country doesn’t.”

Georgia has played its designed home game with Florida in Jacksonville almost annually since 1933. There was a two-game hiatus in 1994 and 1995, when what was formerly known as the “Gator Bowl” was undergoing renovations.

Where it stands

The city of Jacksonville negotiated with previous UGA administrators in 2019 to extend the series in the Sunshine State through 2023, the Jacksonville mayor breaking the news on Twitter.

The most recent public agreement includes a two-year option to extend the deal through 2025, per AJC.com, and increase the guarantees to $1.5 million. That option would have to be exercised by May 15, 2022.

UGA leadership approved Georgia playing its designated home game with Florida in Jacksonville last year, even as other schools opted out of neutral site games amid COVID conditions.

Florida officials made clear they plan to keep their designated home game with Georgia in Jacksonville, which is 70 miles from the Gainesville campus and some 340 miles from Athens.

The Georgia administration, now spearheaded by first-year athletic director Josh Brooks, has been mum on its plans for the future location of its designated home game with the Gators.

Smart, whose Georgia team will be ranked No. 1 when it plays the Gators at 3:30 p.m. on Oct. 30, said he hadn’t thought about the issue until asked about it on Tuesday.

“I don’t concern myself with things I don’t control,” Smart said.

Scheduling factors

Smart does control other elements of the schedule, however. Starting in 2023, the Bulldogs will travel to play at Oklahoma as they begin a series of home-and-home series with high-profile programs.

The added home-and-home series’, which include UCLA (2025-2026), Florida State (2027-2028) and Texas (2028-2029), serve to limit the number of home games at Sanford Stadium in the future.

The Bulldogs, of course, also play Georgia Tech in an annual home-and-home series.

Those factors limit the number of home recruiting game weekends and place a premium on the SEC games Georgia does play in Sanford Stadium.

The Bulldogs have played seven SEC home games every two years -- the rest of the league has played eight SEC games in their respective home states each two years.

Georgia has capitalized on its home schedule this season thanks to Arkansas and Kentucky being good enough to draw ESPN College GameDay to Athens.

ESPN GameDay came to Athens just three times between 1992-2018 while showing up for the Georgia-Florida game in Jacksonville four times in that span.

Smart has built enough momentum of late, however, that ESPN GameDay has come to Athens four times since 2019, the Bulldogs winning all four contests over Notre Dame, Auburn, Arkansas and Kentucky.

Recruiting factor

Smart said the presence of the ESPN show and high-profile opponents make recruits more likely to want to attend games at Georgia on those given weekends.

“If I knew every year we’d have home games like we’ve had this year, it’d be less of an issue,” Smart said. “But it’s an issue when you have your biggest rival, but don’t have the opportunity to bring recruits in every other year.”

The timing of the Georgia-Florida game, played in late October/early November, comes at a key time on the recruiting calendar.

“It’s certainly valuable when kids decide before the early signing day in December and they’re enrolling in January,” Smart said. “Those are the most critical weekends you have to have kids on campus.

The schools could agree to get tickets for prospects to see the game, but the tight travel schedule severely limits the time prospects get to spend around the team.

An on-campus visit, however, enables the prospect to stay overnight, go out with other players and spend extensive time with the coaching staff and see the new $80 million football building.

Different views

Former Georgia and Florida players have been open to playing home-and-home, some suggesting it would add even more juice to the rivalry.

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