By Len Robbins
There are rumors that the tradition of the annual Georgia/Florida football game being played in Jacksonville will end soon.
I find that hearsay heresy.
The game – dubbed the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” – is contracted to be held in Jacksonville through 2021. After that? I frown upon these rumblings.
“I do think we have to look at it from a 10,000 feet above and say, ‘What is best for the long term of our program?’,” UGA head football coach Kirby Smart said about keeping the game at the Jacksonville neutral site. “Mainly because of recruiting, because we lose that weekend. If you took an LSU and Alabama game and said, ‘You can’t have any recruits LSU or Alabama,’ how would they feel about that? That was one of the biggest recruiting events we had (when Smart was a Tide assistant). Well that’s one of our biggest games, Georgia-Florida game, and it’s something that we have to think about.”
Smart’s main issue is that Georgia loses a home recruiting weekend every other year with the game.
Okay, let’s consider that. Is having the game in Jacksonville hurting recruiting for Georgia football? Well, not just no – but hell no.
In the past three years, Georgia’s recruiting classes were ranked 1st, 2nd, and 3rd in the nation.
I understand – and respect – that Coach Smart is trying to get every advantage he can in recruiting. But having a home-and-home series with Florida, and getting another home recruiting weekend also gives Florida – probably the Bulldogs’ biggest rival for recruits – another home recruiting weekend. So, the Bulldogs don’t really gain much of an advantage, if one at all, from moving the game from Jacksonville.
Is the game hurting the Bulldogs financially, having to travel and whatnot?
Not just no – but hell no.
The universities of Georgia and Florida each profit an reported $1.5 million more than they would annually if the game was on a home-and-home basis in Athens and Gainesville.
Also worth noting is the economic impact on Jacksonville and South Georgia. Jacksonville’s annual impact for hosting the game is $35 million annually. The game is also an economic godsend to South Georgia and the Golden Isles. Pulling the game from Jacksonville would be financially disastrous for those areas of South Georgia. It’s South Georgia’s home game. Don’t take that away from us.
But the main reasons to keep the Georgia/Florida game in Jacksonville aren’t financial.
The game has been played in Jacksonville every year since 1933 (not including two years when they were renovating the Gator Bowl – both embarrassing Georgia losses, I might add). That’s 86 years of Bulldog and Gator fans establishing traditions that have become part of the fabric of their college football fandom.
My first Georgia/Florida game in Jacksonville was in 1986 – 32 years ago – when I was a freshman at UGA. Haven’t missed one since. There’s a man in our community, Herb Wheeler, who went to 77 straight Georgia/Florida games. There are literally tens of thousands of Bulldog and Gator fans with their own personal WLOCP streaks and traditions. There are few rivalries like it in college football, or, for that matter, the history of athletics in the world. I even had the honor of editing a book on the series. How many college football rivalries have multiple books written about them?
Thankfully, UGA’s president, Jere Morehead, seems to understand how special the Georgia/Florida series is.
“We’ve been playing the game in Jacksonville since 1933 so I think we need to keep that longstanding tradition in mind,” Morehead said in a DawgNation story. “But we’re obviously going to listen to Coach Smart, and we’ll see how the negotiations proceed.”
Is moving the Georgia/Florida game from Jacksonvile in any way the right thing to do? Financially? For the team? For the university? For the fans? For South Georgia? For recruiting?
Not just no – but hell no. On all accounts.
© Len Robbins 2019