Every year since 1996, and all but two years since 1933, the game once called the World’s Largest Cocktail Party has been played in Jacksonville, Florida. Georgia fans sometimes grumble about that, saying it’s Gator territory, and the game should be played in Atlanta, but for the most part, Jacksonville has become accepted as one of the storied traditions in college football.
But if certain people don’t get a move on, that tradition could come to an end.
The contract with the city of Jacksonville to play the Florida-Georgia game runs out after next year’s game. That alone isn’t a big deal, because having twelve months to renew a contract seems like plenty. However, in addition to the usual clamoring from Bulldog fans (read: bitching… get it?) to move the game to Atlanta or each team’s home field, there’s a real issue standing in the way this time.
The Jacksonville Jaguars, the main tenants of EverBank Field, are leaning towards shrinking the stadium’s club seat capacity from 11,000 down to 8,000. The problem is that the Florida-Georgia contract mentions that the stadium has to contain over 82,000 seats; reducing the stadium from its current maximum capacity of 82,917 by 3,000 takes it well under that. This is also why Florida doesn’t want to play the game in Atlanta, as the Georgia Dome can’t fit more than 75,000. Nor can its impending replacement, Mercedes Benz Stadium.
The problem lies with the rich boosters, 3,000 of whom probably don’t appreciate having their luxurious game-watching experience reduced to that of the common fan. And these are the people both schools (and every other school in the country) want to keep the happiest, since they’re the ones who donate the most money. So don’t kid yourselves; this is a serious issue that needs to be ironed out. At least one of the plethora of different parties here is going to have to give to some extent.
But then again, there really aren’t too many alternatives to Jacksonville. Playing in Atlanta, even sporadically, is out because of its much smaller size (roughly 8,000 fewer seats). And while Georgia has lobbed the idea of playing in each others’ home stadiums over everyone’s heads, it’s a halfhearted effort at best given that playing a game in Jacksonville every year is an excellent recruiting opportunity for them (and because they know Florida won’t budge). I’ve also heard of Tampa being pitched as an idea, but that’s even worse. Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium is even smaller than the Georgia Dome and is nowhere near Athens, so it seems like just another of those here’s-another-idea ideas that gets pitched and thrown out.
So what does the future hold for this game?
All indications are that all parties involved want the game to stay in Jacksonville. So if I had to lay down my life’s savings on a potential outcome of this dilemma, I’m betting on Jacksonville winning this game. Then again, there’s the club seats issue that’s causing all sorts of mayhem, a new type of snag in the contract battle that there hasn’t been before and thus doesn’t have a precedent for how to get sorted out. Essentially, what I’m saying is this: I think the game remains in Jacksonville, but get all you can out of these next two games… just in case.