First, some comic relief from the always reliable Mike Bianchi:
First and foremost let me state this right from the get-go: In the grand scheme of things, Smart is just a temporary football coach at Georgia and should have little say-so regarding whether to move one of the most historic, euphoric rivalries in college football from the place where it has been played — except for a two-year hiatus when the stadium was being renovated — for the last 85 years.
That’s right, since 1933 — amid the Great Depression when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected to the first of his four terms — Georgia-Florida has been played along on the banks of the scenic and serene St. Johns River. And Smart, who like many college football coaches seems to believe the world revolves around his whims and wishes, is now making veiled references about moving this game out of Jacksonville and turning it into just another home-and-home series.
“You are always looking to see what you can do to make your program better,” Smart said earlier this week during the SEC spring meetings in Destin. “Nothing is off the table, but nothing has been decided.”
This isn’t the first time Smart has discussed the possibility of the Georgia-Florida game moving to the campuses of both schools. Smart hinted last fall that the Florida-Georgia game being played in Athens every other year could boost the Bulldogs’ recruiting rankings even higher than they are now. He was referring to an NCAA rule that limits schools to only hosting recruits during home games.
“Yeah, absolutely it costs you a recruiting weekend. You don’t get to have anybody; they don’t get to have anybody,” Smart told 247Sports.com in November. “So our version of the LSU-Alabama game is held in Jacksonville and we don’t have prospects. So it’s not conducive to recruiting; absolutely it’s not.
“It’s just the way it’s been done here before. It’s just not great for recruiting because you lose a home game every other year and that just comes with it. But it certainly helps to have more home games.”
Memo to Kirby Smart: Don’t be Kirby Dumb.
Don’t even think about ruining one of the greatest atmospheres and one of the most awe-inspiring scenes in college football because of a stupid recruiting weekend.
Note to Bianchi: if anyone pulls the game from Jacksonville, it won’t be Kirby Smart on his lonesome.
Which is not to say there isn’t a battle going on between Georgia’s head coach and his bosses. There is: money versus recruiting. Georgia being Georgia, which side do you think is having its way? Per Seth Emerson ($$),
Jacksonville, the site of the annual Georgia-Florida game, otherwise known as the world’s largest outdoor cocktail party, emerged as the unlikely main subject for both schools this week. It happened in large part because Georgia coach Kirby Smart appeared to leave the door open to moving the game — held almost continually since 1933 in Jacksonville — to campus sites. The main concern being that Georgia gives up a valuable weekend every year in which it could recruit, since there are limitations created by the trip to Jacksonville.
But it will remain a difficult sell, considering how lucrative the game is for both schools, and the tradition involved.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all that Kirby is focused on recruiting. Everybody knows that that’s at the top of his list,” McGarity said Wednesday. “But there are a lot of things to consider. The president and I talked about it earlier. The historical aspects of the game. You’ve got a lot of people that look forward to that game. So you’ve got a lot of things to consider. And I’m sure once we have maybe something to review from the city we’ll all sit down and talk about it and go from there. But I totally understand where Kirby comes from in terms of recruiting.”
The contract with the city of Jacksonville runs through the 2021 season. Right now Georgia receives around $3 million more over a two-year period to hold the game in Jacksonville than it would if it were held at campus sites. McGarity referred to it as “financially advantageous” to play in Jacksonville.
“And it could be even more under a new contract,” Morehead said, “We don’t know what Jacksonville is going to offer.”
Methinks Jere is being a little cute there. I have little doubt he already has a pretty good inkling what Jacksonville is prepared to throw on the table to keep the Cocktail Party there. And, yes, that means more.
For all McGarity’s assurance that he knows where Kirby is coming from, I’m not sure he really grasps that as well as he believes, which shouldn’t be much of a surprise from someone who routinely demonstrates the old cliche of playing checkers while his opponent plays chess. In other words, it looks to me as if Smart is playing a two-sided game here — one side is supporting his school as it prepares to squeeze as lucrative a deal from the city as it can, while the other side is getting his school to meet his demands on the recruiting front.
Make no mistake about it. Smart wants to use Jax as a staging ground for recruits. And why wouldn’t he? It’s one of the most unique settings in college football and if you’re trying to dazzle five-star recruits, unique is always a good sales pitch. His problem isn’t that there’s a formal SEC or NCAA rule preventing him from doing so. His problem is his bosses ($$).
It’s not that the schools can’t have recruits there, though.
The annual Oklahoma–Texas game in Dallas is different, for example. Neither school does official visits for that game because the campuses are too far from the stadium. But the home team gets to invite recruits to the game for unofficial visits. So when OU is home, it’s OU’s guest list. When it’s Texas’ year, it’s Texas’ guest list.
But if Georgia and Florida were to do the same thing, the coaches still wouldn’t be able to have contact with them. Such a hypothetical would raise the question: What’s the point?
A main reason why the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party has remained in Jacksonville is the money it generates for both schools. And that’s another explanation Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity shared in the past for not having recruits attend as visitors. He said several years ago that the ticket allotment for recruits — and where they would sit — would hinder that revenue.
Another concerning factor for potentially hosting recruits would be logistics. A trip to Jacksonville is essentially a road game for Georgia because the Bulldogs fly there. Theoretically, both schools can “host” kids from the Jacksonville area, though, because of how much they prioritize the area.
Let’s get the easy rebuttal out of the way first. Given his staffing resources, does anyone seriously see logistics as a real problem for Kirby to surmount in Jacksonville?
Planning an operation isn’t the issue. Money, both on the spending side and on the income side, is. That’s the other part of Smart’s long game, I suspect. And if the city is willing to toss in even more money to keep the CP there, why not push McGarity and Morehead to give up a few bucks, as long as the athletic department still comes out ahead, financially speaking?
Maybe I’m wrong, but as of now, you have to say this: Smart’s definitely got people talking about his priority at least as much as McGarity’s. If something’s gonna give, I know which side I’d pick to prevail.
UPDATE: Um… it looks like Mr. Conventional Wisdom isn’t worried about the game moving.
It’s funny how these kinds of discussions always seem to come up when the end of the contract begins to draw near.
I remember a time when Vince Dooley, the Georgia director of athletics, thought seriously of pulling the game from Jacksonville when the local merchants got greedy and, in some cases, started demanding three-night minimum for hotel rooms. That problem got worked out and a new contract was signed.
This time there will again be all kinds of arguments to move the game, but Jacksonville will sweeten the financial package and the deal will get signed.
UPDATE #2: Speaking of comic relief…