College football notebook: ‘Cocktail Party’ keeping Bulldogs, Gators in Jacksonville for now

AP photo by John Raoux / Georgia football fans cheer during the Bulldogs' game against Florida last October at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville. The matchup of SEC East rivals known as the "World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party" will remain at the home of the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars through at least 2025. Both schools have agreed to exercise a two-year option in their contract with the city of Jacksonville.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The annual football game between Southeastern Conference rivals Florida and Georgia will be played in Jacksonville at least through 2025.

The two East Division schools released a joint statement Wednesday announcing their decision to exercise a two-year option in the contract to keep playing their matchup at TIAA Bank Field, home to the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars. The universities had until June 30 to let the city know if they were picking up or declining the option.

In the release, Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin said the city near the state line on the Atlantic Coast has been a "historic host for one of the great rivalry games in all of college football. We are excited to have the game in Jacksonville for another two seasons."

The game known as "The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party" has been played in Jacksonville since 1933, with the exception of a home-and-home series in 1994 and 1995 while the stadium was being gutted and rebuilt in anticipation for the Jaguars' inaugural season.

Georgia coach Kirby Smart has been outspoken about wanting to move the game to campus sites for recruiting purposes. NCAA rules prohibit schools from hosting recruits at neutral sites, although Florida and Georgia are allowed to leave tickets for recruits.

Smart would prefer face-to-face contact, something he could get if the Bulldogs were hosting the Gators in Athens.

"I firmly believe that we'll be able to sign better players by having it as a home-and-home because we'll have more opportunities to get them to campus," Smart said last season.

Florida coach Billy Napier, meanwhile, has expressed a desire to maintain the status quo.

"The underlying issue here is the economics," Napier, who is entering his second season with the Gators, said earlier this week. "It's very beneficial for both teams to play the game there."

The payout from Jacksonville is expected to be roughly $3 million for each school in 2023, a figure that includes $1.25 million guaranteed plus a split of ticket revenue and concession sales. The guaranteed payout for each school increases to $1.5 million in 2024 and 2025.

Georgia also receives $350,000 annually to cover its charter flights, buses and lodging, while Florida receives $60,000 because no flights are required from its Gainesville campus.

A Florida home game, by comparison, generates from $2 million to $5 million, depending on the opponent. So a home-and-home series currently would bring in less revenue over a two-year span.

"We are pleased with the decision to exercise the option that will keep the game in Jacksonville for 2024 and 2025," Georgia AD Josh Brooks said in the release. "We look forward to discussions that I'm sure will continue over the next couple years exploring all the options for 2026 and beyond. We continue to be appreciative of the working relationship we have with the University of Florida and the City of Jacksonville."

The rivalry could be pushed to campus sites in 2026-27 if Jacksonville agrees on a massive renovation to TIAA Bank Field and the surrounding area.

Although few details have been released publicly, one option would be to shutter the NFL stadium for two years and move all games out of the city. Another option would spread the rebuilding project over four years and allow games to be played as scheduled, possibly with a reduced capacity, but nothing will be decided until after newly elected Jackonsville Mayor Donna Deegan assumes office on July 1.

Alabama defensive back sentenced

BONIFAY, Fla. — Alabama defensive back Tony Mitchell has been sentenced to three years of probation with a fine and community service after pleading guilty to a drug charge in Florida.

Holmes County Circuit Judge Russell Roberts accepted Mitchell's plea to a charge of possession of more than 20 grams of cannabis and imposed the sentence Wednesday. He also received 100 hours of community service and paid a fine of $1,560.

Mitchell had been charged in March with possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell after a traffic stop when authorities said he drove faster than 141 mph while trying to evade deputies in the Florida Panhandle on a rural highway. A deputy had spotted Mitchell's black Dodge Challenger traveling 78 mph in a 55 mph zone on a rural highway north of Bonifay.

Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban announced Mitchell's suspension from the team after the arrest. An Alabama spokesman had no comment Wednesday on Mitchell's situation.

Mitchell, who is from Alabaster, Alabama, signed with the Tide in December. He was a five-star prospect rated the 34th-best player and No. 3 safety in the composite rankings for the 2023 recruiting cycle.

Mitchell and another man who was a passenger in Mitchell's car were both charged with possession of marijuana with the intent to sell or deliver, according to a Holmes County Sheriff's Office arrest report. The other man also was charged with carrying a concealed gun without a permit.

During the traffic stop, deputies reported smelling marijuana and noted that Mitchell appeared confused. During a search of the car, deputies recovered 8 ounces of marijuana, $7,040 in cash, a set of scales and a loaded 9mm handgun, the arrest report said.

Ticket sales soar at Colorado

There's a high demand for a front-row seat to watch the Colorado football program's turnaround under Deion Sanders. Or so the soaring ticket sales indicate.

The Buffaloes sold 11,273 single-game tickets Wednesday, the largest one-day total for individual games in team history. The school already sold out of its season-ticket allotment, marking the first time that has happened since 1996.

The demand has been through the roof since Sanders was hired as head coach of the downtrodden Pac-12 program in early December, with even the spring game selling out.

Still, Sanders and his veteran staff have their work cut out for them in rebuilding a program that went 1-11 last season. Many players have exited through the transfer portal, only to be replaced by a new batch of highly touted recruits, so preseason camp figures to be just as much about learning names and faces as new plays and systems.

The Buffaloes' over/under win total has been set at 3 1/2 by FanDuel Sportsbook, which is tied with Stanford for the lowest among Pac-12 teams.