HOOVER, Ala. — Kirby Smart knows all about the pageantry of the Georgia-Florida game being played annually in Jacksonville, Fla.
But Smart, a former All-SEC safety with the Bulldogs who understands the rivalry better than anyone, said feelings can’t get in the way of what’s best for the program.
“I don’t get caught up in the emotion of this decision or that decision,” Smart said. “I look at it from a perspective of 10,000 feet where I say: What is best for our program? And it’s that simple. And we’ll make that decision as a group and go with it.”
Smart explained at SEC Media Days the consideration of moving the Georgia-Florida game from Florida to a home-and-home series is a matter of quality control.
“I think anytime you look at things from self-analysis, you say let’s do quality control,” Smart said. “How can we get better, how can we grow, how do we improve?
“How do we improve at recruiting? Getting opportunities to present, to put your best foot forward, to have people into your home.”
UGA is in the design and development phase for the expansion of the Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall football building.
The project is expected to give the Bulldogs some of the best, if not the best, football facilities in the nation and will cost tens of millions of dollars.
Georgia completed an impressive Sanford Stadium West End Zone expansion last summer.
“So you build a $63 million facility at your home location and you want to develop relationships with kids,” Smart said, referring to the stadium improvement.
“Every opportunity you miss to have a kid at your home is an opportunity to get better
The contract for the game to be played in Jacksonville, Fla., runs through 2021, and it has touched a nerve with select fans who enjoy a tradition that dates back to 1933.
Much has changed in college football since then. Most notably, how programs go about recruiting and the importance of official visit weekends on campus with the accelerated recruiting calendar is much different.
Some fans and even a couple of analysts suggested Smart doesn’t need the 12.5-percent boost in recruiting that another home recruiting weekend every other year would give him.
Georgia’s recruiting classes under Smart have ranked No. 2 in 2019, No. 1 in 2018, No. 3 in 2017 and No. 6 in 2016.
But Smart said it’s flawed logic to think that means the program is doing enough.
“We don’t look at things from the scope of, well we had the No. 3 or No. 2 or No. 6 or No. 10 recruiting class, that doesn’t matter,” Smart said.
“We’re trying to figure out how to get better, and the best way to get better is to have opportunities to present in front of those kids.”
Smart was the No. 6 highest-paid coach in the nation in 2018, according to USA Today data, but Georgia finished No. 8 in the final Coaches Poll after finishing last season with consecutive losses.
Smart explained how that has triggered a “Do More” philosophy with him, his staff and his players.
Part of doing more, Smart believes, is maximizing the program in every capacity.
“I’m for what’s best for the University of Georgia and as a group and as a staff and as administration,” Smart said in Hoover, “and we’ll look at that internally and make the decisions based on what is best for our student-athletes and what is best for the university.”
The financial portion of the equation is that Georgia essentially is making an extra $1.65 million per year by playing the Gators in Florida every year.
A home game at Sanford Stadium nets about $4 million, and then the team loses approximately $500,000 for a road game — a profit of $3.5 million over two years.
Jacksonville pays UGA $3.4 million per year to play Florida, a net of $6.8 million over two years — hence the $3.3 million difference over a two-year period.
The soonest the Florida game could be in Athens would be 2022 if the Jacksonville contract is not renewed.
Georgia-Florida Jacksonville Rivalry