SMITH COLUMN: Should Florida-Georgia move to a home and home?

Published 9:30 am Friday, November 4, 2022

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

It is interesting to see the reaction taking place in the city of Jacksonville regarding the playing of the Georgia-Florida game each October.

It is easy to understand why Florida doesn’t want the game to go home and home as they are worried what might happen. It feels like a home game to the Florida constituency. And why not? Everybody but a small pocket of Bulldog fans wears orange and blue on game day or voices their support for Florida.

The cops, the bus drivers, school teachers, bankers, lawyers, corporate executives, the butchers, the bakers, and the candlestick makers all lean in the Gators’ direction. Play the game annually in Atlanta and you will have the opposite effect. All of the above would favor the Red & Black.

There are two points that I have always underscored. One is that it is NOT a neutral site game. The other is that the city of Jacksonville, with all its latent efforts to lavish Georgia with extra money and warm praise, gave UGA the back of its hand for years.

Working in concert with Jacksonville officials, the Gators took the lion’s share of tickets. More significantly, they took the lion’s share of the good tickets. Their argument was that most of the tickets were being sold by Florida, but Joel Eaves, who became Bulldog athletic director by the 1964 season, informed one and all that if it were a neutral site game, Georgia should be given half the tickets in the stadium and for sure, half of the good tickets.  

Initially, Georgia had difficulty in selling all its allotment and Florida fans ordered tickets from the UGA Athletic Association. This was before the Dooley factor kicked it.

When Vince started winning this game, that is what made the rivalry.  Jacksonville should never forget what Vince did for the game. There was another issue with the city. Georgia couldn’t get a motel operator to book rooms on UGA terms, namely that the team would be allowed to book rooms for only one night. 

That was a big-time issue with the Bulldog hierarchy. Only a threat to move the game brought favorable results. A significant factor that should not be overlooked is that playing the game in Jacksonville every year makes it a challenge for Georgia to manage an attractive home schedule for the month of October, the greatest month of the year for college football.  

We are past the slights that Jacksonville was guilty of in the past. They now are bending over backwards to make it attractive for Georgia to continue playing the game at TIAA Bank Field.  One could not find fault with the effort being made by Jacksonville officials today.

Greg McGarity, former Georgia athletic director, also served in a high-level administrative role at Florida, supports keeping the game in the city where he is now running the Taxslayer Gator Bowl.  He points out a home and home arrangement would be great in those years when your team hosts the game—but playing on the road in alternate years would result in a $2.5 million dollar shortfall.

While this has been a favorite venue of mine for a variety of reasons for a number of years, I want what is best for the University of Georgia. My position is that wherever Georgia’s enterprising head coach wants to play the game is what I think is best for Georgia. If Kirby says home and home, that is where my sentiment lies. If he is okay with keeping the game in Jacksonville, that is okay with me.  

The biggest critic of Georgia playing the game in Jacksonville, was always Pat Dye. An All-America guard for the ‘Dawgs, he later became head football coach and athletic director at Auburn. He moved the Alabama-Auburn game from its traditional site, Birmingham, to a home and home scheduling routine. You would think that the city of Birmingham would be half and half when it comes to Auburn and Alabama fans. 

Didn’t matter, Dye thought the merchants and business community in Auburn deserved the fruits of playing the game at home every other year. I am confident of one thing. That if Kirby Smart is convinced home and home is best for recruiting that will be the determining factor in where the game will be played in the future.  

It is not a knee-jerk decision. He has thought about the situation long and hard.