When I began taking a look at the issue of the Georgia Bulldogs’ struggles with the Florida Gators over the last 21 years, I quickly dismissed as untenable the notion of de-emphasizing the game and instead came up with some alternative suggestions. The first of these was to game-plan and condition (both mentally and physically) for four full quarters of football. The brings me to my second recommendation, which is as follows:
2. Move the game. No, I’m not getting on board for taking the game out of Jacksonville; Greg McGarity has shown no desire to bring the contest to campus, and the current contract runs through 2016, so we don’t have time to wait on such a solution. (The notion that such a move represents a solution also assumes that Doug Gillett’s assessment is mistaken, and I, for one, am confident that Doug is correct, but, for now, the more important point is that, if we’re serious about reversing the current trend immediately, relocating from Duval Street is not an option.)
As Lakepoets noted, we need the SEC to share the bye; that is, the open date prior to the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party needs to be distributed equitably between the two teams. Fortunately, this is occurring. Next year, both teams have an open date before the showdown in Jacksonville. In 2012, Georgia has a bye week before the Florida game. Obviously, that helps to level the playing field, as the Gators clearly have benefited from the extra preparation time, but is that enough?
Here is the breakdown of the all-time series results by date (excluding ties):
|Date||Georgia Wins||Florida Wins|
The Red and Black used to celebrate the end of the fall campaign with "hate season," the three year-ending tilts against the Bulldogs’ three main rivals in back-to-back-to-back games: Georgia closed out the autumn against Florida, Auburn, and Georgia Tech annually from 1959 to 1995. Before the start of divisional play in the SEC in 1992 moved the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party closer to midseason, the Athenians typically readied themselves for the contest in Jacksonville with a weak non-conference opponent, whereas the Gators faced Auburn seven days before confronting Georgia each season from 1962, the year before Steve Spurrier arrived in Gainesville as a student-athlete, to 1991, the year after Steve Spurrier returned to Gainesville as the head coach.
The effect of this was obvious. During that 30-year stretch, Florida beat both the Bulldogs and the Tigers just six times while losing to each opponent in nine different seasons. The Sunshine State Saurians followed up a victory over the Plainsmen with a loss to the Classic City Canines nine times.
For a variety of reasons, there is nothing Greg McGarity can do to require the Gators to play the Tigers one week before the showdown by the St. John’s River, particularly now that Auburn is a rotating Western Division opponent for Florida. However, there is much McGarity can do about the placement of the Bulldogs’ open date and the scheduling of their lower-tier out-of-conference opponents.
Given the special circumstances surrounding the SEC’s only remaining traditional annual neutral site outing, it is reasonable for McGarity to lobby the league for a break in the conference schedule just prior to the Cocktail Party, so that either team could take a week off or tune up against a patsy. McGarity could point out to the SEC office that it is not in the league’s interests for either combatant to have an unfair advantage over the other, as that lessens interest in a rivalry that CBS, one of the conference’s major television partners, has arranged to air as a 3:30 game for the next several years.
It is as much in the SEC’s interests to have Georgia and Florida go 5-5 against one another over the next decade as it would be in NASCAR’s interests for Dale Earnhardt, Jr., to win a few races. Because the game garners such publicity, the SEC needs it to be good. Having tipped the scales in Florida’s favor by rearranging the schedule at the end of a two-decade run of Georgia dominance in the series, the SEC would do well to send the pendulum swinging back in the other direction for the same reason.
The above chart speaks for itself: Florida is 18-10-1 against Georgia in games played on or before November 2, whereas the Bulldogs are 37-22-1 against the Gators in outings taking place on or after November 3. The later we can push the game, and the more we can do to make the Saturday before the Cocktail Party an actual or functional bye week, the better off the Bulldogs will be.
(If we could move the Georgia Tech game earlier in the year and move the Auburn game to its traditional place at the end of the Georgia schedule, we could make the Florida game a week later and still have room for a breather between the game against the Gators and the game against the Plainsmen. I’m just saying.)