There will be plenty written over the next four days comparing the Goliath Florida Gators with the David Florida Gulf Coast Eagles – the teams meet in the Sweet 16 of the 2013 NCAA Tournament on Friday – and while the schools do contrast in a number of abundantly apparent ways, they actually share a bond that has plenty to do with how each has been able to grow and develop over the years.
In 1930, Ben Hill Griffin, Jr. enrolled in the University of Florida where he studied economics, marketing and agriculture. After three years at UF and before he was able to graduate, he left school during the Great Depression in 1933 to begin working on his own and supporting his family. Griffin, Jr. wound up becoming a successful businessman and politician and he and his family have chosen over the years to donate large sums of money back to Florida for both higher education purposes and to partially fund its then-burgeoning athletic program.
Griffin, Jr. donated more than $20 million to the school and Gators athletic program before his passing. He credited Florida for his marketing education and felt that it was only right to share his fortune with the school that he believed made his success possible. In 1982, he was inducted into the UF Athletic Hall of Fame as an honorary letter winner for his financial support.
In 1989, UF renamed its football stadium Ben Hill Griffin Stadium because of his generous contributions. Four years later, due to donations that led to the restoration of a historic building on campus, Floyd Hall was named Griffin-Floyd Hall. Even to this day, the school hands out academic and athletic awards and scholarships in his name.
Following his passing, his son Ben Hill Griffin III (who first attended UF before transferring to a community college) decided to begin financially assisting another school, the upstart Florida Gulf Coast University.
The Griffin family’s company, Alico, Inc., donated approximately 760 acres of land – the largest private donation of land in state history – to the school in order for it to build a campus. One of the Eagles’ athletic facilities, Alico Arena, is named after the company as appreciation for its $5 million donation to the project. Additionally, Florida Gulf Coast’s main academic building is named Griffin Hall.
With the school and athletic program now up and running, Griffin III is focused on helping the Eagles create a football team. In early March, he donated $25,000 to the school to be split evenly for a business school scholarship and football scholarship. Alumni of the university – which opened its doors in 1991 – have been adding to the football scholarship over the last few weeks.
In all, Griffin III donates to 10 separate institutions of higher education (including UF) along with a number of high schools. His last major contribution to Florida was nearly 50 percent of funding for the recently rebuilt athletic training facility on campus.
There are also numerous Ben Hill Griffin Roads throughout the state of Florida. Considering Alico, Inc. began as a land-holding subsidiary of a railroad company and later moved into agri-business, its dealings are spread across the state. In Fort Myers, FL, where FGCU is located, Ben Hill Griffin Parkway intersects with Alico Road, each of which runs along the exterior of the campus.
The Griffin family has been supporting academics and athletics at Florida for decades and is one of the primary reasons why Florida Gulf Coast even exists today. Though Griffin, Jr. passed away in 1990, his son and the rest of his family will have plenty to cheer for on both sides when the Gators and Eagles tip off in the Sweet 16.