College football economics ultimately may doom Georgia-Florida in Jacksonville

Despite news that the annual Georgia-Florida clash looks set to remain in Jacksonville through 2021, prospects for the college football classic staying at the neutral site much past that date might run afoul of the two schools’ future need to bolster their home schedules.

Whether that prospect dismays you or pleases you probably depends in large part on your tolerance for the crowds and high prices that characterize greater Jacksonville (including nearby areas of South Georgia) each year during the week when the Dawgs and Gators meet.

The Jacksonville Business Journal reported this week that a contract renewing the annual Georgia-Florida game is officially on the table for city approval. It’s a lucrative five-year deal, with a total of $2.75 million in incentives for the schools over the life of the contract. Each school will receive a $125,000 “signing bonus” and a $250,000 guaranteed payment each year, a provision that the Journal said didn’t exist under the prior contract.

Both schools are also getting an increase in their travel and lodging stipend, and Jacksonville will cover UGA’s air travel up to $350,000 each year.

Many fans are looking forward to seeing Nick Chubb go against the Gators one more time. (John Kelley / UGA)

While some Georgia fans — and, at one point, former Dawgs coach Mark Richt   have complained over the years about Jacksonville not really being a truly “neutral” site for the game, and a few have even gone as far as suggesting there is some sort of “Jacksonville jinx” for the Dawgs, it should be noted that the past three demoralizing losses were preceded by three wins in a row for Georgia during the Will Muschamp era at UF.

A bigger threat to the Jacksonville neutral-site series was talk a few years ago of the SEC playing nine conference games. If that were to happen, Georgia and Florida would be at a disadvantage in having one less home game in the odd-even rotation of home and away, and one less spot open for a cupcake home game.

The nine-game SEC schedule seems to have been parked on the conference’s back burner, but I’ve heard increasing support from Georgia fans in recent years for moving the Georgia-Florida game out of Jacksonville to make the home schedule more palatable in the alternating years when UGA plays at Auburn and Georgia Tech — either with a home-and-home deal for the Dawgs and Gators or an arrangement that alternated Athens, Gainesville and Jacksonville.

In one sense, that would be a shame, because, if you take the game out of Jacksonville — with the 50/50 split in seating and the surrounding party atmosphere — it no longer would be one of college football’s marquee events. It would be just another important game in the SEC East.

However, there’s also something wrong with Georgia fans not getting to see the team play its biggest rival in Athens. And, if configured correctly, having the Gators play at Sanford every other year could help…

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