ATHENS – Georgia and Georgia Southern have played each other at least once every four years this century. That streak is on the verge of ending.
In fact, there’s no definite timetable for the two programs to play again, much to the chagrin of Georgia Southern.
“I’m trying to get that game back again,” Georgia Southern athletics director Tom Kleinlein said Thursday. “We sat down and talked about it a couple months later and thought it was a great experience. Obviously we bring a bunch of our fans there, and a lot of their fans and our fans are closely tied fan bases. And with the whole deal with Erk [Russell] coming from here, it’s a great, great game. We’d like to play again in the future. But I’ve not gotten a response to being able to play that game.”
Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity did not immediately respond to requests for comment, via text or email.
The last discussions with Georgia were earlier this spring, according to Kleinlein, and those came via email.
“They have said that they’re kind of in the process of some other things right now,” Kleinlein said.
Georgia’s 2019 nonconference schedule is full, with home games against Notre Dame, Arkansas State and Murray State, and the trip to Georgia Tech. The 2020 season has one open slot, with three scheduled nonconference games: Georgia Tech, East Tennessee State and then Virginia at the Atlanta Falcons’ stadium. There are no known scheduled games beyond that, other than Georgia Tech.
As guarantees increase dramatically across the country, UGA is paying Arkansas State $1.8 million to visit two years from now. Kleinlein, meanwhile, said he’d be willing to accept less than the going rate to play Georgia again.
“I would be a little more flexible with my pricing just because I would like to play that game, it being an in-state game,” he said. “You’re not paying for a flight for [us] going up there. I’m bringing [fans].”
Georgia Southern has an extensive calendar of games against Power 5 teams:
2017: at Auburn, at Indiana
2018: at Clemson
2019: at LSU, at Minnesota
2020: at Ole Miss
2021: at Arkansas
For years, Georgia Southern was a Division I-AA/FCS program, jump-started in 1981 by Russell, the legendary coordinator of Georgia’s Junkyard Dawg defense. The Eagles went on to win six national championships at the I-AA/FCS level, before jumping to the FBS level in 2014.
Georgia and Georgia Southern have played six times, dating back to 1992, and had met mostly on four-year intervals since 2000; the originally scheduled game in 2016 was moved up a year for scheduling purposes.
Georgia has won all six games, but the last time the two teams played, late in the 2015 season, Georgia Southern forced overtime. Georgia won 23-17.
Kleinlein said he doesn’t believe that game, or Georgia Southern’s triple-option offense, has led to any reluctance by UGA to schedule the game. The two team’s head coaches, Kirby Smart and Tyson Summers, are also very close, but Kleinlin also doesn’t believe that to be a hurdle.
He just isn’t getting the vibe that Georgia is in a rush to rekindle the game.
Georgia Tech also isn’t on Georgia Southern’s schedule anytime soon. Those two programs have had two earlier meetings. Kleinlein has been seeking that game, too, even without the same history between the two programs.
Some of the difficulty, Kleinlein acknowledged, is Georgia already being scheduled so far out in advance, especially in SEC play.
“It’s a little bit of a challenge. But I’m still pursuing it and would love to play it again. I think it’s a good game for us. I think we should continue to play them and Georgia Tech. I’d love to continue doing both.”