With the SEC announcing to stick with an 8 game schedule, there’s hope for the future of the Florida-Miami rivalry.
I’m prefacing this entire article with this statement: I love Jeremy Foley as Florida’s athletic director.
99% of the things he does for the University of Florida have a positive net worth. He’s hired Billy Donovan, Kevin O’Sullivan, countless other coaches who have won big in minor sports, had a hand in hiring Urban Meyer, extended Steve Spurrier, and has ordered several beautiful renovations to Florida’s athletic facilities. Other than a couple of bad football hires, the only real mistake he’s ever made in the 22 years he’s spent as Florida’s AD is the one I’m about to yell at him for.
With the recent news that Florida has extended its annual series with Florida State through 2018, I can’t help but feel saddened that that’s the only in state rivalry the Gator brass seems to care enough about to continue. Ever since September 7, the images of Jeff Driskel, Matt Jones and Trey Burton combining for five turnovers against Miami last year have raced through my head, followed by a question for Jeremy Foley:
This isn’t the first time I’ve raised that question, either. Anybody remember this? A lot has happened in the three years since I wrote that for the original incarnation of this website. I’m 20 years old now, the SEC has expanded to 14 teams, and Florida football is in a major state of flux. But the message behind it remains the same. I love the Miami rivalry. It used to be among the biggest rivalries in all of college football, with as many landmark moments as any other rivalry. The Florida Flop. Late, pointless field goals with no purpose other than to run up the score. A big comeback by a Gator-turned-Cane, capped off with- what else?- the Gator Chomp. Florida handing Miami its only loss (in gigantic fashion, too) of a season that ended with the Canes at #1 in all the polls.
And contrary to what Foley and Miami AD Blake James say, there’s a way to see it again, but Foley has to just hear this out.
I’m well aware of the “financial concerns” excuse that Jeremy Foley has been tossing out ever since he made the deal to play Miami in 2008 and 2013 and people asked him why the two schools don’t play more. I know about the $500,000 out of the athletic budget Florida lost by playing at Miami, and thus playing six, and not seven home games in 2013. I also know that Florida lost more than that by paying Georgia Southern to come and beat them in Gainesville. The recruiting implications, the national exposure and the added strength of schedule that come with merely playing the Canes (not to mention, um, beating them) will more than make up for the lost $500K in other ways.
I’ve heard you out, Jeremy, and I’ve taken all that into account. So now, respectfully, it’s your turn to listen to me.
Make Florida-Georgia a home and home series (you know, like every other SEC East team does), and then add Miami as an annual opponent.
Think about that. Everybody- from Jeremy Foley, to Florida fans, to Georgia, Miami and FSU fans- gets what they want. Foley gets seven home games, Florida plays Miami every year, Georgia fans can stop whining about the location, and FSU fans can claim to be “official” state champions in years which they beat Florida and Miami since the “official” trophy (the Florida Cup) can only be handed out in years that Florida and Miami play each other.
Basically, Florida loses a home game every other year by playing Georgia in Jacksonville. Conversely, they would gain a home game every other year by playing Georgia in home-and-home style. They could then use the date that would be an extra home game to play at Miami. So essentially, Florida’s trading one home date for another. There would be still be seven games played in the Swamp per year.
The Gators are the only one of UGA’s annual opponents to not play on their home field one year, and on Georgia’s the other year, which is what an annual home-and-home is; i.e. all their other annual opponents get one home game against Georgia every two years.
While Duval County is admittedly more Gator country than Bulldog country, it’s not the Swamp, and UF doesn’t own EverBank Field, which means that they don’t make home game type money that Tennessee and South Carolina make every two years by hosting the Dawgs. Each school gets half the tickets, and Georgia fans think nothing of making the 5 and a half hour, 310 mile drive from Athens to watch the Dawgs play their biggest SEC rival. It’s an inconvenience, sure, but they do make the annual migration down to EverBank to ensure that the stands have almost as much red as they do blue.
It’s died down a little bit over the last three years, since Georgia finally remembered how to beat Florida, but before 2011, there were a lot of Bulldog fans clamoring for the game to be moved to the schools’ campuses, because the overflow fans (the non-students) in EverBank are more Gators than Bulldogs (and, you know, Florida’s 18-3 record against Georgia from 1990-2010). And it’s true; Florida fans do generally outnumber Georgia fans at the game once called the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, if by a few percentage points. When that proposal was shot down enough times, Georgia tried to at least move the game to Atlanta once in awhile (which is a supremely bad idea because Atlanta has far more Gator fans than Jacksonville has Bulldog fans, and I say that having spent more than a month in both cities) and that never materialized, either.
From a financial standpoint- Foley’s biggest concern, remember- I don’t quite understand why not. Assuming Florida’s football team is better on a yearly basis than they were in 2013, the University will easily make more money hosting one game every two years than they would playing two games in Jacksonville in two years. EverBank Field can only hold 84,000 fans, and let’s suppose that number gets split right down the middle. Florida can sell 42,000 tickets one year, and 42,000 the next year, which puts them right back at 84,000. Florida’s home field, Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, can hold up to 91K fans, and Georgia’s backyard, Sanford Stadium, can squeeze in 93K. Subtract the tickets reserved for the visiting team, but then add it right back the following year when the game is played in the other team’s stadium. That wells exceeds 84,000 tickets sold, for both teams.
And then there’s the added impact the home campus environment has that Jacksonville, try as it might, simply cannot match. Sure, it’s a different experience from all other college football games played on a school’s campus, and one that lots of fans put on their bucket lists, but that doesn’t mean it’s better. I’m well aware of the weekend long event in Duval County, and I’m not wholly impressed; I’ve seen buildups to important Tennessee, LSU and FSU games in Gainesville that far outshine that of what’s essentially a weekend long tailgate in the Gateway City. Can you imagine how insane the campus would be before hosting a Georgia game- especially for the first several times, since it would be uncharted territory, something new for Gator fans who have never seen this before (or were very young the last time it happened in 1994), but still afterwards?
Now let’s go back to the Florida-Miami topic for a second. Like I said earlier, the addition of Georgia as a home game every other year, Foley would then have an extra home game to sacrifice in those years, and could use that date to play at Miami- a trip that requires less travel for Florida than every other SEC team. Only Auburn comes close in terms of mileage (324 miles to Miami’s 310), and even if Florida couldn’t bring a particularly large contingent from Gainesville, there are literally hundreds of thousands of Gator fans who live either in Miami or close enough that they’re willing to make the drive from any of the dozens of beach cities in South Florida. You think Jacksonville is “like” a home game for Florida when Florida plays Georgia? Miami would be just as much so, if not even more so because Canes fans are notoriously bad at filling their while Georgia is pretty good. Yes, Georgia fans are better at filling their seats in Jacksonville than Miami fans are in Miami.
The other main issue Jeremy Foley had with putting Miami on the schedule was the fear of a nine game SEC schedule clogging up all the dates he could potentially use to schedule the Canes. Add the FSU game, and there’s 11 of your 12 allotted games right there, leaving one game to schedule the type of cupcakes that Foley can’t live without, and to generate that money he’s been talking about. I did understand (somewhat) that Foley wouldn’t want to only play one team Florida was guaranteed to beat. Believe me, I did.
But a few days ago, the SEC announced that it would stick with an eight game conference schedule, which takes that away. That article I just linked from the AJC was a call for the Georgia Bulldogs to ramp up their non conference schedule, but that call applies just as much to Florida. Both teams have fulfilled their obligations of playing a power conference team by playing an in-state rival to finish their regular seasons. But unlike Florida, Georgia isn’t afraid to schedule additional power conference teams: see Boise State, Clemson, Colorado, and Oklahoma State.
Recently, however, we saw an encouraging sign. Foley agreed to have Florida play Michigan in North Texas to kick off the 2017 season. That’s not even close to a home game, the way traveling to Tallahassee, Jacksonville, or even Miami is at least sort of a home game, and as thrilled as I am for this game, Florida’s going to get burned financially for playing it, and from the way he’s carried on about losing money for playing at Miami in 2013, I was stunned when I first heard that news. Thrilled, of course, but stunned. Remember, nobody tied him down and forced him to schedule that game; rather, he did it because he saw an opportunity to put Florida in the national spotlight, boost recruiting, and give the players and coaches a chance to do something special.
Read that last sentence over again.
Can any of you tell me that playing Miami every year would fail to accomplish any of those same things? Can you tell me that making these two moves together as one is going to have any negative financial impact? No, and no. So cut the excuses and let’s play ball.
The important thing to remember is making these two moves simultaneously has absolutely zero effect on the amount of home games Florida hosts per year. Florida would lose a home game every other year by playing Miami in South Florida, but would gain one right back with the addition of Georgia as a home game. Then factor in the aforementioned recruiting implications and national spotlight that come with playing in a rivalry game, let alone winning one.
Those are facts, as is everything I wrote here minus the part about comparing the experience/intensity of game day for Florida-Georgia on campus as opposed to in Jacksonville, but even those opinions are backed by the undisputed fact that Gainesville is absolutely rocking when the likes of Florida State come to town and Florida’s good.
So please, Jeremy, do the right thing. Put Miami back on the schedule, and show the rest of the world that putting old rivals back on the schedule isn’t the worst thing in the world. Set the precedent so that the Texas-Texas A&M, Nebraska-Oklahoma, Michigan-Notre Dame, Pittsburgh-West Virginia and Kansas-Missouri rivalries may one day follow suit. It’s what’s best for both schools, and the nation as a whole.
I suppose it’s possible that I missed something during my extensive research on the financial end of things. If that’s the case, I encourage you as readers to point them out to me. I’m not claiming to know everything. I’m just a guy who doesn’t want such a great rivalry to end. Especially in this type of fashion: