The big story around athletics at the University of Georgia last week did not include who’s going to be the next men’s basketball coach. It instead centers on the news that Gary Stokan, president of the Atlanta Sports Council, has approached Damon Evans about moving the WLOCP to Atlanta once every four year rotation starting as soon as the next four year rotation (The current four year contract with the city of Jacksonville is set to end after the 2010 game). Damon Evans responded as such:
“We haven’t talked about any specifics involving the game,” Evans said. “As always we’ll consider what’s best for Georgia and do what’s appropriate. But we’re not in talks with them right now. They just broached the subject to us, as they have before. But there’s not any ongoing dialogue going on about it right now.”
This subject was touched on by several folks from both the Georgia side and the Florida side of the aisle. Here is Orson’s take, T. Kyle King’s opinion on the matter, the always thought provoking Senator, and Paul Westerdawg’s take which I have to say I completely agree with.
First, let’s completely discount this whole football game side of the argument. For many families, the Georgia/Florida game in Jacksonville represents a week that they can take off from work and school and get away either on the coast of Georgia or down in Amelia Island. From the student perspective, this is their Fall Break (I remember the Cocktail Party seemed to always either fall the week before or after midterms during my time at the University). This week serves as the largest revenue gainers for coastal Georgia cities other than St. Patrick’s Day and it is a big boon to the local economy in Jacksonville.
Now, let’s look at some of the football sides of the equation. Jacksonville Municipal Stadium holds 84,000 people for the Cocktail Party while the Georgia Dome held approximately 76,000 people for this past year’s SEC Championship Game (thank you, Wikipedia). People such as myself that live in Atlanta know that tailgating anywhere near the Georgia Dome is not a terribly fun thing to do. The lack of parking and free space is certainly concerning. There’s also the chance for absolutely terrible weather as north Georgia tends to be a fickle lady during late October/early November. This is usually not a problem in Jacksonville where you can hang out on the beaches and in all my trips the weather has been very pleasant for that time of year.
Now on to the real reason why Mr. Stokan brought this up. There is a ton of money to be made off this game. He’s just doing his due diligence by trying to bring some revenue into Atlanta. I can’t fault the guy for at least reaching out and feeling around. Heck, you could put this game in New Jersey and people would still show up.
Now here is the typical argument that a Georgia fan will lay out for why this game should move from Jacksonville:
- Playing the game in Jacksonville is not a neutral site since we have to drive 350 miles to get there and Florida can take the bus up on the day of the game for the 70 mile trip
- It makes sense to move the game to Atlanta since most Georgia alumni make their homes in the area
I came of age as a Georgia fan in the early-mid 90’s and was a student from 2002-2007 so I’ve mostly known heartbreak, frustration, and pure anger as it relates to Jacksonville. Those that came in the generation or two before me (70’s and 80’s) know something completely different. They came of age when Vince Dooley coached Bulldog teams won 17 of 25 games. Back then it was the Florida fans clamoring for changing the venue or going to home and home. They believed that the Bulldogs had an advantage in Jacksonville. I don’t buy the “it’s not a neutral site” argument for one second. The site that we believe not to be neutral didn’t stop those teams from dominating the Gators back then, so what’s different now? (hint: It’s not the site)
My simple retort to the second argument is that we shouldn’t forget our friends south of the gnat line. The University of Georgia is the flagship University of the state of Georgia. We have alumni and fans from all over. There are plenty of faithful season ticket holders and alumni that live in south Georgia that enjoy having one weekend a year when they don’t have to make the trip up to Athens and can stay closer to home.
To me, the idea of moving the game from Jacksonville is a crime in itself. College football holds a place in my heart that the NFL can only wish to get a piece of. The thing that makes college football so much better than the NFL is that it is so different. To me the NFL style of football is boring and predictable. Every week you’re going to face a similar offense. In college football you might see a spread attack one week, a running QB the next week, followed by a pro style attack in week three, and you might even see the option.
The biggest thing that separates college football from an NFL minor league are these minute differences. It’s the neutral site games. It’s the WLOCP and the Red River Shootout. It’s the rivalries. It’s the traditions. It’s the fact that Florida could be 11-0 and directly on its way to a national title matchup but it still wants to beat the living tar out of Florida State. College football captures all of this and its little nuances are what makes it special and different from the NFL.
I frankly believe that it wouldn’t have mattered at all over the last 20 years where this game was played. Georgia has lost simply because they lost. They don’t lose because the game is being played in Jacksonville. If we are truly serious about creating a change in this series, a change in venue is not the right answer. In the great words of Paul Westerdawg:
We’re chicken shit if we leave — This would be the first step in running us out of Jacksonville.
If we want a change in this series then we need to start recruiting better, coaching better, and playing better. This series will change once our team stops crapping their pants just because there are orange helmets with script letters lined up on the other side. Until then, we need to quit complaining about Jacksonville.