INDIANAPOLIS — Departing Georgia players Mecole Hardman and Deandre Baker believe there’s one way for the Bulldogs to heighten what most believe is the program’s biggest rivalry: make it a home-and-home series.
“I wish the game was at home, a home-and-home,” Hardman said at the NFL combine last weekend.
“I feel like it would be more personal. We’re coming to y’all’s stadium and we beat y’all, now we own this stadium. We have bragging rights for two years at your stadium.”
The Georgia-Florida game is contracted to be played in Jacksonville through 2021, but Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin said in a recent interview that ‘you never say never’ when it comes to moving the game.
Gators defensive lineman CeCe Jefferson said at SEC Media Day last July that he’d like to play Georgia in Athens, too.
“I kind of wish we went to Georgia and played at Georgia, I wouldn’t mind it,” Jefferson said. “I ain’t going to lie, it gets lit between the hedges, at night, I’ve seen where they light the cell phones up. It gets loud in there.
“I wouldn’t mind going from our stadium to their stadium every year We don’t have to go to Jacksonville every year.”
Bulldogs All-American cornerback and Thorpe Award winner Deandre Baker said he would have liked the opportunity to play a game in Gainesville.
“I would love that if it was a home-and-home, and we go beat them in their stadium,” Baker said. “I’d say Florida (is the biggest rival) because I’m from Florida, and I think that’s the biggest rivalry other than Tennessee.”
Hardman has Florida down on his list of rivals but believes a home-and-home series would increase the intensity.
“I’d have liked to played in it (The Swamp),” Hardman said. “I wish we could do something different, and that rivalry would go from where it’s at to a whole other level.
“It’s like Georgia-Georgia Tech, we go home-and-home, it’s not a neutral site game. Auburn we go to Auburn, Auburn comes to us. We go to Tennessee, Tennessee comes to us. The main rival is Georgia Tech, Auburn and Tennessee then you have Alabama, for sure.”
Departing UGA tight end Isaac Nauta says he sees where a case could be made for a home-and-home with Florida.
“I could definitely see it (home-and-home) add more to the rivalry,” Nauta said. “But being a guy that used to live in Jacksonville, it’s pretty cool to play in that stadium and play in what they call the biggest cocktail party in the country, where they split the stadium half and half.
“That’s a pretty cool experience to go down and play in that environment, but I also think the home and home games would be pretty cool, too.”
The rivalry game originated in 1904 in Macon, Ga., and it has also been played at “neutral” sites in Savannah, Ga., and Tampa, Fla.
But the series has most recently been held in Jacksonville since 1933 with the exception of 1994-1995, when stadium renovations led to Georgia and Florida playing a home-and-home.
The Gators, then coached by Steve Spurrier, swept those two games likely leaving a sour taste in the mouths of UGA fans.
The city of Jacksonville pays the schools more money to play the game there — approximately $2.6 million more — than they would make playing in their home stadiums.
The schools’ home communities, Athens and Gainesville, are the big losers. A home game generates more than a million dollars of economic impact for local business.
A substantial amount of tax revenue is generated, much of which goes back into the school systems and city infrastructures.
The biggest loss for the Georgia and Florida football programs is that they each lose what would serve as valuable recruiting weekends.
Smart has pointed out it puts UGA at a recruiting disadvantage compared with other SEC programs that don’t play a neutral site league game.
NCAA rules prohibit teams from hosting official visitors at neutral site games.
So while prospects can attend the game on an unofficial visit, the schools’ can’t pay for them to be there like they do on official visit weekends.
Coaches have precious little time to spend with the prospects and no campus to show them.
“We give up our opportunity to have one of our best recruiting days,” Kirby Smart said on his radio show last season, according to the Athens Banner-Herald. “If that averages one player a year, that’s four or five good players. That’s tough where every other team we compete against, they get the opportunity to bring recruits.
“We don’t get the opportunity to bring recruits to this game. It’s a disadvantage when you’re talking about against a Tennessee or an Auburn or somebody who gets the extra home games.”
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