Georgia coach Kirby Smart offered some of his strongest comments yet Wednesday about wanting to move the Georgia-Florida football game to the schools’ campuses rather than playing it in Jacksonville, Florida, every season.
During an interview on SEC Network at SEC media days Wednesday, Smart said having the game in Jacksonville, where it has been played every season but two since 1933, hurts recruiting because under NCAA rules prospects aren’t allowed to attend the neutral-site game .
When Georgia is designated as the home team in Jacksonville, it plays just three SEC home games in Athens, Georgia, that season. It gives the Bulldogs fewer opportunities to host recruits on campus.
“I’m competing against [coaches] all across the SEC who host recruits at their biggest games,” Smart said. “When Auburn plays at 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 about [moving the game].”
Last year, the Jacksonville City Council approved a contract extension that will keep the SEC contest there through at least the 2023 season. There is also an option to play it there in 2024 and 2025. This season, the Bulldogs and Gators are scheduled to play at TIAA Bank Field on Oct. 29.
New Gators coach Billy Napier, speaking to reporters at SEC media days, said he wanted to coach in the game before forming an opinion about where it should be played.
“I want to experience the game first,” Napier said. “I’d like to see that game in Jacksonville, experience that game, before I have an opinion on it. There’s a lot of credibility to both [arguments]. The home-and-home obviously would be fantastic, but there’s also some tradition there. There’s a rivalry there. Time will tell.”