Okay, Kirby … we get it — you don’t like playing the Florida Gators in Jacksonville.
University of Georgia football coach Kirby Smart won’t give up on his thinly-disguised hints that he’d like to move the Florida-Georgia game in Jacksonville to home-and-home, or a rotation between Jacksonville and Atlanta.
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Smart harped once again on a tradition that will be played at TIAA Bank Field for the 87th year since 1933, a streak interrupted only three times, in 1943 by World War II and in 1994 and 1995 when the game went to the respective campuses because of the stadium renovation for the Jaguars.
Smart’s rationale: Georgia’s game vs. Florida is the only SEC rivalry played at a neutral site and he can’t host recruits. Neither can the Gators but Smart, coming off UGA’s first national championship since 1980, still isn’t happy.
“I’m competing all across the SEC, who host recruits at their biggest game,” Smart said Wednesday on SEC Now, during SEC Media Days in Atlanta. “When Auburn plays Alabama, guess where the recruits are? When LSU and Alabama play, that’s where the biggest recruits want to go. It’s an opportunity for us to bring these kids, who fly in from all over the country — what game do they want to come see Georgia play? They’d like to see Georgia play Florida, but they can’t do that. It’s very important. Recruiting is very important. I just can’t get a Florida coach to agree with me.”
However, there’s not much Smart can do. Jacksonville will be in the second year of a five-year contract to host the game, running through 2025 — provided the schools exercise their option to keep playing the game in Jacksonville in 2024 and 2025.
And playing Florida in Jacksonville doesn’t seem to have hurt Smart. Depending on the recruiting service cited, the Bulldogs have had top-three recruiting classes the last six years and were ranked first in 2018 and 2020.
Georgia is 66-15 under Smart and has won the SEC East four of six years.
Smart was not asked about the issue during his appearance before the assembled media at the College Football Hall of Fame. But he revisited the issue during an interview with 1010-XL.
He likely was frustrated that Billy Napier joins the list of UF coaches who don’t agree that the game should be pulled from Jacksonville, where it has achieved national fame as one of the three biggest neutral-site rivalries, along with Oklahoma vs. Texas and Army vs. Navy.
“I want to experience the game first, right?” the first-year Gator coach said on Wednesday during his interview session. “I’d like to see that game in Jacksonville, experience that game before I have an opinion on that.”
Napier didn’t deny that the game would still be a huge hit if it was taken to Gainesville and Athens.
“There’s a lot of credibility to both, right?” he said. “The home-and-home obviously would be fantastic. But there’s also some tradition there [in Jacksonville]. There’s a rivalry there. Time will tell … that’s above my pay grade. But I’m looking forward to the opportunity to participate in the game.”
Smart last popped off about moving the game out of Jacksonville during the SEC spring meetings in Destin.
“It’s not conducive to recruiting … it’s absolutely not,” he said that time.
Smart also said then that “nothing is off the table” in regards to keeping the game at TIAA Bank Field. But the contract was renewed later that year.
Smart can argue with his own success in Jacksonville. Georgia has won four of the last five meetings against the Gators, and routed UF 34-7 last year.
Contact Garry Smits at firstname.lastname@example.org
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