Kirby Smart – Recruiting is an important factor in the Florida-Georgia neutral site debate | Catch My Job


As the home team Saturday in a neutral-site game against Florida, No. 1 Georgia can leave tickets at the recruiting gate.

For Georgia coach Kirby Smart, that’s not nearly enough to make up for his defending national champion’s inability to host recruits like he would in a real home game.

The annual rivalry game in Jacksonville, Fla., is under contract only through 2023. Smart’s recruiting concerns are a big factor in discussions about the franchise’s future.

Officials from Georgia and Florida released a joint statement Monday that said a number of factors will be taken into account as the schools consider keeping the game at a neutral site or moving to home sites.

The rivalry game “is an important tradition,” the statement said.

“Typically, both schools begin discussions about future games in the series as the final scheduled game approaches. We anticipate following that timeframe. Once those conversations take place, we will consider a multitude of factors including tradition, finances, future SEC scheduling models with the addition of Texas and Oklahoma, and what is best for both schools’ football programs as a whole.”

With the exception of home-and-home games in 1994 and 1995, the game, dubbed the “World’s Largest Cocktail Party” has been played in Jacksonville since 1933. Georgia (7-0, 4-0 Southeastern Conference) will look to protect its top ranking on Saturday against Florida (4-3, 1-3).

NCAA rules prohibit schools from recruiting at neutral sites. It’s clear that Smart doesn’t believe that leaving tickets at the gate makes up for not being able to contact recruits.

“We’re allowed to use tickets, but we can’t host them,” Smart said Monday. “We can’t do anything. So I never understood – I never understand – what would we do with them? We can’t legally see them. We cannot talk to them, we cannot host them. Visit with them.

“We can say, ‘There’s a ticket at the gate.’ Enjoy the game.’ So that’s all we can do. We will do it. Let the kids go to the game.”

Smart also addressed the future of the rivalry last week when he said money and the tradition of playing at a neutral site also had to be considered.

“I enjoy the luxury of going down there and playing,” Smart said. “I enjoyed playing there as a player. I enjoy tradition. I enjoy all those things.

“When it comes down to it, there’s a very, very basic element of everything that it all comes back to, number one is money and number two, recruiting and getting good players. I’m a firm believer that we’ll be able to sign better players if we have that as a home and a home because we’ll have more opportunities to get them on campus.”

Smart acknowledged the fact that playing the game in Jacksonville brings in more money for the university.

“You have to weigh both and make really good decisions,” he said.

Georgia and Florida will consider a two-year option to keep the game in Jacksonville until 2025.

The payout for each Jacksonville team is approximately $2.9 million for each school in 2022 and 2023, which includes $1.25 million guaranteed and a portion of gate receipts. Georgia also gets $350,000 each year for its charter flight, buses and lodging, while Florida gets $60,000, with no flights required.

Guaranteed money for each school would increase to $1.5 million in 2024 and 2025. With admissions revenue included, each school’s payout under the option would increase to more than $3 million.

Each school generates about $3 million in sales for the game on their campus, minus about $500,000 in expenses.

First-year Florida coach Billy Napier says he’d like to experience the Jacksonville game in person before offering an opinion on the future of the series.

“So this environment, this experience for the player, can have a significant impact on the player’s decision,” Napier said. “So I mean, I totally understand what Kirby is saying. Every other year he’s missing out on what he knows will be a fantastic venue and game day experience.”

Napier said there are “some advantages and disadvantages” to each team in Jacksonville.

Christopher Smith said his favorite part of the annual game is “when you walk into the stadium you see the crowd split 50-50.”

Even so, Smith said, “Personally, I’d like the game to be home and home” with occasional games in Jacksonville.

Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson said the neutral site adds to the rivalry.

“It’s pretty cool to be in Jacksonville to see the stadium split in half,” Richardson said. “But I feel like if it were to be put into universities, into schools, I feel like you could be favoring one team over the other.” It’s just food for thought.”


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