ATHENS — The future location of the Georgia-Florida game beyond 2023 remains up in the air after UGA passed on meeting a May deadline to exercise an option that would have kept the game there through 2025.
Georgia athletic director Josh Brooks said at UGA’s spring board meetings that there’s no rush to determine the future of the game with so many other things up in the air.
Indeed, in addition to fielding Jacksonville’s next offer to buy the Bulldogs’ future home games with the Gators, the pending SEC schedule model and renovation of TIAA Bank Field might also play a role.
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Georgia coach Kirby Smart made it clear at SEC Media Days that he believes bringing the Bulldogs’ designated home game with Florida to Athens is in the best interests of the program.
The game has been played in Jacksonville since 1933 — with the exception of the 1994 and 1995 seasons, when it was played in Athens and Gainesville while the old Gator Bowl Stadium was undergoing work.
Prior to that, the most recent game in Gainesville was in 1932, and the most recent contest in Athens in 1926.
It’s possible the Bulldogs could play the Gators in Sanford Stadium in 2024, depending on how the factors Brooks mentioned played out.
UGA President backs head coach
UGA president Jere Morhead has become a much bigger player in the game for Georgia football with his role of SEC President and chairman of the NCAA board of directors.
Morehead knows better than anyone what Smart is up against and the challenges UGA faces if it wants to maintain its place above college football.
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Morehead made Smart the highest-paid coach in college football with his new $112.5 million, 10-year contract extension, with the intent on keeping Georgia on top.
Smart has asked to be on a level playing field with Alabama, LSU and Auburn by getting the program’s biggest home game on campus.
Having recruits at neutral site games does not allow players and their families to have extended time with coaches or future teammates, nor do they see the campus, facilities and living quarters.
The SEC goes to a 9-game schedule
If this happens, one possibility would be an Athens-Gainesville-Jacksonville rotation for the game.
Gary Stokan, President and CEO of the Peach Bowl, has expressed an interest to get Atlanta into the rotation.
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There would be some complications with any sort of rotation outside of home-and-home, but UGA athletic director Josh Brooks has proven capable in the sticky situations he has encountered as a Georgia administrator.
TIAA Bank Field renovation
Jacksonville mayor Lenny Curry hinted the game may have to be played in Athens in 2024 with the Jags’ pending plans to renovate TIAA Bank Field.
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It’s a sure bet the city of Jacksonville would continue to negotiate — aggressively — to get the game back in that city as it has helped them develop a successful infrastructure with what is likely approaching $50 million in economic impact (it was $35 million in 2018, pre-inflation).
A source close to Athens city government suggested the economic impact of the rivalry game to the University of Georgia’s hometown could be more than $20 million.