ATHENS — Tim Tebow cited the financial value of the Georgia-Florida game when making his case for the rivalry to stay in Jacksonville.
Tebow is quite literally right on the money.
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:
• move a designated home game away from Athens
• forfeit its biggest recruiting weekend
• put its players at a travel disadvantage in a rivalry game
Coach Kirby Smart, and some Bulldogs fans and players, don’t think that’s such a great deal.
A recent unscientific poll shows UGA fans split on continuing the series in Jacksonville when the current contract runs out in 2021.
The divide has fanned the flames on what Paul Finebaum said at the SEC Spring Meetings is the hottest rivalry in the SEC.
But Tebow and most all of the Gators’ fans love having the neutral site game so near to the University of Florida and closer to many of their players’ homes.
“I’m biased, I grew up to going to that game, being 20 minutes from my house,” Tebow admitted in his recent interview with Atlanta’s 11 Alive Sports.
“It’s incredible, all these people descend on Jacksonville, and it’s great for the economy, and it’s crazy and the (stadium) is split, red and black, orange and blue.”
But most all of the green stays in the state of Florida, and neither team can recruit effectively on game day in Jacksonville.
“All you can do is provide a complimentary ticket, that’s what’s allowable under NCAA rules, so all we could do is leave tickets at will-call,” Georgia AD Greg McGarity said.
“We haven’t done that because there’s not a benefit to that. We’d all rather entertain our status-athletes on campus.”
A trip to the University of Florida the day after the game is 71 miles.
Athens, a destination city Georgia coaches proudly show off to recruits, is 339 miles away from Jacksonville.
Smart, a former All-SEC safety at UGA who played in the rivalry game, has pointed out the disadvantages.
“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.
Georgia lost the 2017 CFP championship game to Alabama by a 26-23 count in overtime.
Last season, the Tide overcame a two-TD deficit in the SEC title game when UGA lost its top pass rusher, D’Andre Walker.
It’s not a leap to suggest that having one more star player — much less, four — could have made a difference in the outcome of both games.
Smart said again this spring that playing the game in Jacksonville is “a tough pill to swallow” in recruiting.
“I do think we have to look at it from 10,000 feet above and say, ‘What is best for the long term of our program?’ “ Smart said. “Mainly because of recruiting.”
College football has changed a great deal in the 86 years since someone decided Georgia playing Florida in Jacksonville every year was a good idea.
To Smart’s point, the value of official visit weekends in recruiting has become paramount.
The recent addition of an early signing date in December makes the in-season official visits even more urgent.
The recruiting cycle has grown shorter, and not getting an elite player on campus for an official visit makes the odds of landing him significantly longer.
As Smart and his program are losing recruiting opportunities — and Athens is losing millions of dollars — UGA administrators point to “tradition ” as an offsetting value.
“We’ve been playing the game in Jacksonville since 1933 so I think we need to keep that longstanding tradition in mind,” UGA President Jere 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.”
Football legend Steve Spurrier, like Tebow, sees the disadvantage Georgia is at and hopes the Gators can keep the rivalry game on Florida turf every year.
“I can see the Georgia side, to tell you the truth,” Spurrier said during a recent appearance on the SEC Network. “It would be very similar to the Gators going to (Mercedes-Benz Stadium) in Atlanta and Georgia to play there every year.
“But Jacksonville is a great place …. we hope it will stay there. “
The game is contracted to stay in Jacksonville through 2021.
— 11Alive Sports (@11AliveSports) June 22, 2019