What can Georgia do to improve its football schedule?

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Georgia gets a return trip from Notre Dame in 2019. Other than that, the marquee opponents coming to Sanford Stadium in the near future will be SEC teams.

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Our out of conference schedule is extremely weak this year. My question is, did we not have a home-and-home schedule with Ohio State starting this year? It seems that I read something about that several years ago. David Johnson

You probably read about that in 2010, when that series was indeed scheduled. It was canceled a couple years later.

Ohio State and Georgia originally agreed to play each other in 2020 and 2021, but the agreement stipulated that if they couldn’t agree on dates for the games by the summer of 2012 that the deal would be off. And Ohio State backed out after the hiring of Urban Meyer and amid a planned annual series between the Big Ten and Pac-12. (Oh, that series with the Pac-12 never happened.)

Georgia currently has just two ongoing or planned marquee football series: Notre Dame, which makes its return trip to UGA in 2019, and UCLA in 2025-26. (Georgia goes to UCLA first.) UGA also is set to play Virginia at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta to open the 2020 season. And, of course, there’s the annual series with Georgia Tech.

So why doesn’t Georgia do more? Frankly, at this point it doesn’t need to. There isn’t much competitive or economic motivation for Georgia to change its scheduling strategy.

The College Football Playoff committee seems unlikely to punish an SEC team for a weak nonconference schedule as long as the SEC remains strong, and as long as its teams schedule at least one marquee nonconference game. And even those two points are up for debate: The SEC wasn’t exactly strong last season, but two of its teams were chosen for the playoff. When they both won their semifinals, that only reinforced the choices.

Economically, the estimate is that the Athens area nets about $2 million in business for every home game. And in case you haven’t heard, Georgia recently raised ticket prices, which does offer some motivation to schedule up. If Georgia scheduels a power-conference team it will charge $75 per ticket, versus $55 for the Austin Peays of the world. The difference, per my math, amounts to just more than $1 million per game for the school.

But the donation levels, as season-ticket holder Rebecca Phillips so alertly researched, are not different, and that remains the dominant price. And even that $1 million more per game would be mitigated by this consideration: You can get Austin Peay and Middle Tennessee to come to UGA and not have to return the trip. You have to return the trip in order to schedule Notre Dame, UCLA or even weaker power-conference teams. (I will humbly submit my alma mater of Maryland and its not-quite-powerhouse program, which would still require a return trip in order to agree to come to Sanford Stadium. That’s just the way it works.)

So if Georgia wants to consistently have seven home games every season — and that’s the goal — it doesn’t want to schedule power-conference teams often. There also are years that Georgia has only three SEC home games, and if that’s a year in which Georgia is at Georgia Tech, then the most games there would be at Sanford Stadium is six, which is a number UGA wants to avoid falling under.

That said, I understand the frustration of Georgia fans. Austin Peay, Middle Tennessee, UMass, Murray State, Arkansas State … it doesn’t excite many people. But UGA figures that people will keep coming, particularly with the seemingly upward trajectory of the program.

Could Georgia find more interesting small programs? Sadly, the Georgia Southern series appears to be over for a while. Mercer and Georgia State could be interesting to some fans. But what other small-college programs would qualify as interesting?

Or would Georgia fans be willing to give up one home game a season if it meant the other home games would be more interesting? Would you rather see Georgia play two “blah” nonconference games, but get two Saturdays in Athens out of it, or get only one Saturday in Athens but have it be against a Power 5 team?

Those aren’t rhetorical questions; I’m genuinely interested. Feel free to offer your thoughts below.

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