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Georgia's Smart says declining invitation for White House visit was not political

Georgia White House Invite Football
Posted at 4:25 PM, May 11, 2023

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Georgia coach Kirby Smart insisted Wednesday there was no political motivation behind the decision for his national championship football team to decline an invitation to visit the White House in June.

Instead, Smart says scheduling issues, including a youth camp in June at the Georgia football facility, made it impossible for the Bulldogs to accept the invitation to attend a June 12 event with other college teams at the White House. The event is described by President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden as “College Athlete Day.”

Smart told the Athens Banner-Herald on Wednesday the inability to accept the invitation is “a tough deal” and added, “Timeline-wise it didn’t work."

Smart, the former Alabama defensive coordinator, said he enjoyed making White House visits with the Crimson Tide, which he called educational opportunities for his players. He noted those visits usually were scheduled for January, immediately following the season, when players were still on campus.

Many players from Georgia's undefeated championship team are now beginning professional careers and in June will be preparing for their first NFL training camp. Smart told the Athens paper his coaches will be busy recruiting and hosting the youth camp in June.

“We didn’t have a date set and we’ve got 700 kids at a football camp at our place June 6, 7, 8,” Smart said. "It’s the number one time for recruiting for football coaches. You’ve got 600 to 700 kids coming to your campus, you can’t leave to go to the White House and have no one on your campus. So the time just didn’t work out. There was nothing political about it. I’ve been before. It’s very educational. It’s a great experience.”

The tradition of having college championship teams visit the White House was discontinued during the coronavirus pandemic. The last championship team to make a White House visit was Clemson, which won the 2018 title and visited on Jan. 14, 2019.

This year’s NCAA men’s and women’s championship basketball teams from Connecticut and Louisiana State, respectively, are scheduled to visit the White House on May 26. Georgia's athletic association said in a statement released on Tuesday the invitation for the June 12 visit was made on May 3.

“Unfortunately, the date suggested is not feasible given the student-athlete calendar and time of year," the athletic association said in the statement. "However, we are appreciative of the invitation and look forward to other opportunities for Georgia teams moving forward.”

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