ATLANTA- Heading into his first season as the head coach at Florida, Billy Napier has a lot on his plate when it comes to putting a competitive team on the field. But one topic that seems to be rearing its head again centers around the Gators’ Jacksonville-housed matchup with Georgia.
There have been rumblings about the coaches and administrators at both schools wanting to move the game to a home-and-home series, but now we are starting to hear more from the coaches involved. Kirby Smart hasn’t fully gone in on the location of the game, but decided to make his point very clear during an appearance on “SEC Now”.
“I’m competing against (coaches) all across the SEC, who host recruits at their biggest game,” Smart said. “When Auburn plays 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 out of Jacksonville).”
The game is way too important for each school’s budget, but most importantly the recruiting aspect from the participating teams.
I agree with what Kirby Smart is saying about playing this game in Gainesville and Athens, just look at the other massive home rivalry games in the SEC. Could you imagine playing the Florida-Florida State game at a neutral venue every season? It’s different for some of these out of conference games. But for these rivalry games in the SEC, it almost seems like a slap in the face to fans when you play this game outside of a home venue.
I know it’s a fun atmosphere, but we are starting to see more games being signed to home venues and having the benefit of hosting recruits every other year is too important for both of these teams. I most certainly understand the argument to keep it in Jacksonville, but in my opinion, the negatives outweigh the positives.
There’s also the respect that Billy Napier has for Kirby Smart, which he discussed numerous times on Wednesday.
“Nothing but respect for Kirby. I mean, the guy’s an unbelievable football coach, leader. He’s a fantastic person. Unbelievable competitor. I’ll tell you, first time I saw him was at our first SEC meeting. I told him, I said, Congratulations. I mean, I know what goes into that, right?
“I’m proud of the guy, to be quite honest,” Napier added. “He’s done it, and he’s done it the right way. It’s going to be great to compete against him.”
Even though Billy Napier is focused on making sure his team is ready to go for the opener, the question will continue to be asked about moving the game. The fact that Kirby Smart spoke so emphatically about moving the game gave Napier the opportunity to jump in on the fun. But for the first year coach, he would rather experience the game before sharing his overall opinion of moving it.
“You know, I got asked that question earlier and I think the biggest thing is I want to experience the game first, I’d like to see that game in Jacksonville and experience that game before I have an opinion on that. But, there’s a lot of credibility to both (arguments), a home-and-home would obviously be fantastic, but there’s also some tradition there, there’s a rivalry there, time will tell. I agree, that’s above my pay grade. But, I am looking forward to the opportunity to participate in the game.”
This answer makes it pretty clear that the question has been raised numerous times since he arrived in Gainesville. But while he’s trying to handle running a program, I would imagine the location of this game isn’t the top item on his list, even if previous administrators dropped the ball on the proposal. It’s also pretty simple from a recruiting standpoint, knowing that prospects can’t take an official visit to an away game, which is pretty obvious.
The ticket revenue is split for these games, while other expenses are agreed upon. I understand first year coach Billy Napier wanting to wait to give his opinion, but this should’ve been taken care of before the new coach arrived in Gainesville.
For now, it stays in Jacksonville – but we’ll see where this goes in the future. And hey, at least it’s being talked about.
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