While in-state rivals and Southeastern Conference foes have been making substantial, multi-million dollar upgrades to their football facilities – including adding exorbitant indoor practice facilities – over recent years, the Florida Gators have stood firm that their amenities are above or on par with any team in the nation.
Athletic director Jeremy Foley took that stance again on Monday while addressing whether he agrees with some external murmuring that Florida’s facilities are no longer up to the program’s lofty standards.
“I wear orange and blue goggles a lot, and I’m certainly willing to have wide-open eyes, but I don’t agree with the assessment that our facilities have fallen behind,” explained Foley. “We judge our facilities based on [whether] they help our programs be successful. Do they make an impact on their ability to be successful? Whether that’s a weight room for football or a gymnastics practice studio, whatever have you.”
It’s not that the Gators have been lacking in making upgrades to their stadiums, locker rooms, weight rooms or multiple sport offices. Rather, Florida has been ahead of the curve in boosting its stadiums and support structures, especially for the football program.
In 2003, while most schools were still offering the norm as far as stadium seating was concerned, the Gators invested $52 million to add luxury boxes, expand and enhance the press box, renovate the Bull Gator Deck and add numerous suites. One year later, Florida spent $2 million to add high-resolution video boards well before other schools even considered doing so.
Throughout 2007-08, the Gators approved a $28 million project that completely renovated the football facility, strength and conditioning room and football offices. The project also included the construction of the 100 percent privately-funded Heavener Football Complex, which showcases the program’s national titles, Heisman Trophies and all the accomplishments of its players with beautiful pictures and video.
The video boards installed just five years earlier were replaced with $5.6 million screens in 2009. Florida then funded the nearly-$600,000 construction and installation of Heisman Trophy statues outside the stadium with Steve Spurrier, Danny Wuerffel and Tim Tebow all standing on bronze.
Still, the Gators were not done and approved a full renovation of The Swamp’s west concourse, which included a number of enhancements for fans like new restrooms, wider concourses and additional concession options for an undisclosed sum.
For the basketball program, the Gators have spent $3.4 million since 2006 to improve the Stephen C. O’Connell Center, which will begin a $45 million facelift at the conclusion of the 2014-15 season. Florida has also recently built a lacrosse facility from scratch and spent $4.5 million to renovate the gymnastics team’s practice studio; the program has won back-to-back national titles since.
What the Gators do not have, most notably, is an indoor practice facility for football. Florida’s football locker rooms also do not contain waterfalls and full spas, though the athletic department did add a Gator Room with games, big-screen televisions and other entertainment for its student-athletes.
“As you look around our facilities, we’re not into bells and whistles,” said Foley. “We’re always looking to upgrade our facilities, but we’re not getting into an arms race.”
Unfortunately for Foley, the rest of the SEC – and Florida State – is doing exactly that.
So while the Gators have spent more than $90 million on the football program since 2003 and well over $50 million for their other sports, they are now being criticized for their lack of flash. Other programs, which were late to the party and not ahead of the curve like Florida, are not just catching up to UF’s facilities but now surpassing the standard created by the Gators, which were in front of the pack for nearly a decade.
That’s not to say Florida does not recognize that it needs to make additional improvements.
The Gators are considering a few indoor practice facility options with costs that could range between $4-12 million, though the project has not been approved as of press time.
Florida is currently one of five SEC schools without a full indoor practice facility; the other four – Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi State and South Carolina – are either in the process of building one or have plans approved to do so. (UGA and USC, respectively, currently have 30- and 50-yard mini-indoor facilities.)
What the Gators have approved, in addition to the O’Dome expansion, is a $1.75 million renovation of its Office of Student Life that will commence next year.
“We’re putting a major, major expansion into our academic center. We’re designing that right now. I think when you bring young men and women on campus with their parents, our commitment to their academic success and their personal development as human beings is really important,” Foley said.
Florida’s facilities are not seen by Foley as an issue that affects the Gators’ success in playing games or recruiting student-athletes. “On a major scale, that’s not impacting our success at all.”
However, he does recognize that Florida may need to make a few changes or additions once he hires a new head football coach, especially if that hire has a desire to keep up with the Jonses.
“Every new coach that comes in here needs something new, that’s not going to be different,” he said. “That’s the way it works.”