Forget Atlanta or going back to campus. The annual Georgia-Florida football game is staying in Jacksonville.
The Georgia athletic board endorsed a new six-year contract Wednesday that would keep the game formerly known as “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” in the northeast Florida city through 2016. Athletic director Damon Evans can now finalize negotiations with the city of Jacksonville and Florida officials, nothing more than a formality.
Jacksonville officials made a major concession when they agreed to subsidize Georgia’s travel costs, chartering three planes to fly the team directly from Athens to Jacksonville. That arrangement will actually begin next season, one year before the new contract takes effect.
“The city of Jacksonville is stepping up,” said associate athletic director Frank Crumley. “Our travel time will actually be shorter than Florida’s.”
“The game has always been one of the great traditions in Florida history, and in my opinion, Georgia history, and in college football history,” Gators athletic director Jeremy Foley said. “We’ve always been a proponent of the game being played in Jacksonville, and we’re thrilled it’s going to continue to be played there.”
The game picked up its “Cocktail Party” moniker during the 1950s, which came to symbolize the raucous fans from Georgia and Florida who descended on Jacksonville each year.
In 2006, however, both schools requested the nickname no longer be used after the deaths of two Florida students. Officials felt it worked against their efforts to promote more responsible use of alcohol.
Still, the game is viewed as one of the biggest parties in all of college football.
“It is neat to travel and go down and see a neutral site,” said Brittany Lee, a student representative on the Georgia athletic board.
“So many of my friends call from Ole Miss or Tennessee and say, ‘We want to go to Georgia-Florida. That just seems like so much fun.”’
In addition to settling the future of the Georgia-Florida game, the board also approved $1.2 million from its reserve fund for the planning of an expanded concourse at Stegeman Coliseum, the school’s basketball arena. The total cost of the project was not discussed.
Also, the panel approved $700,000 to design a new pedestrian area behind the north stands of Sanford Stadium. The total cost of that project is expected to be $8.8 million.
Adams said coliseum improvements were vital to improving the men’s basketball program, which is heading into its first season with coach Mark Fox.
“One area of athletics where we have been consistently sub-par is men’s basketball,” Adams said. “We have got to change the support of men’s basketball.”