O’Connell Center redesign, renovations scheduled

The University of Florida on Tuesday announced the schedule for a planned renovation of the Stephen C. O’Connell Center as well as some specifics about what improvements will be made to the facility by the time it is completed in the winter of 2015.

According to the school, Florida is already “in the process of choosing a firm to design the project” and hopes to pick one soon in hopes of getting construction on the 33-year-old facility started in nine months.

O’Dome renovations will begin in March 2015 and conclude in December 2015 with the project set at a price tag of $45 million. The school has already signed off on a $10 million contribution to the project with the University Athletic Association tasked with raising the remaining $35 million.

Athletic director Jeremy Foley mentioned in May that the Gators are still $15 million away from their overall fundraising goal.

The following are among the renovations scheduled to be made to the facility:

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2014 SEC Spring Meetings: O’Dome, Miami, clock

The 2014 Southeastern Conference Spring Meetings continued Wednesday in Destin, Florida, with Florida Gators athletic director Jeremy Foley among those that met with the media and divulged information about the future of the school and league. Below are some highlights from the second day of the SEC Spring Meetings.

O’DOME RENOVATIONS WILL SEND GATORS ACROSS STATE

Plans to renovate the Stephen C. O’Connell Center have been in the works for two years, but Florida is just now “closing in” on the nearly $50 million needed to complete the project, Foley told the Orlando Sentinel’s Edgar Thompson. Once the funding goal is reached and the project is officially approved, plans will be set into place for construction to begin in March 2015 with the goal of completing the process by January 2016.

Though Foley did not mention how the construction would affect other Gators sports like volleyball, women’s basketball and indoor track & field, he did note that Florida men’s basketball would likely play its non-conference home games throughout the state in Jacksonville, Orlando and Tampa. (The Gators could also come to South Florida for more than their one usual game, which is played as part of the Orange Bowl Basketball Classic in Sunrise.) The idea would be to schedule two games in three days (Thursday-Saturday, Friday-Sunday) in each location. Florida played seven pre-January non-conference home games last season.

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The Silver Lining: Billy Donovan’s honesty about NBA interest not indicative of imminent departure

Billy Donovan is not looking to leave the Florida Gators.

Donovan is happy to be living in Gainesville, Florida. His father, 73-year-old Bill Donovan, Sr., moved into town years ago and misses less than a handful of games each season. His son – yes, also named Billy Donovan – is on the Gators roster and will be a redshirt senior during the 2014-15 season. He wants to follow in his father’s footsteps.

Donovan is well-paid by the athletic department and its director, Jeremy Foley, a close friend who inked Donovan this spring to a new deal that will result in him earning $3.7 million before bonuses each season through 2019.

Donovan is revered by a fan base that bought into his talent long ago but is now prepared to make him a legend, all but begging Foley to erect a statue or name a portion of the soon-to-be remodeled Stephen C. O’Connell Center after arguably the best coach in school history.

Donovan is also a basketball junkie, and he has made it no secret that his passion for the game and desire to coach the sport year-round tugs at his brain and his heart.

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2014 SEC Spring Meetings: Schedules, network

The 2014 Southeastern Conference Spring Meetings got underway on Tuesday in Destin, Florida, with Florida Gators athletic director Jeremy Foley, head football coach Will Muschamp and head basketball coach Billy Donovan all in attendance.

In addition to participating in league meetings, school representatives make themselves available to discuss a number of hot topics concerning the SEC and college sports nationwide. Below are some highlights from the first day of the SEC Spring Meetings.

NO MORE FCS OPPONENTS?

Strength of schedule has been a key issue for members of the power five conferences now that the College Football Playoff has been put into place. With the SEC deciding to stick at eight league games and mandate at least one opponent from those four other conferences beginning in 2017, SEC schools are looking for ways to make their schedules even stronger going forward.

Muschamp on Tuesday said seemingly matter-of-factly that Florida is “probably going to move forward without playing FCS opponents.” As it turns out, the Gators do not currently have one on deck past 2014. Foley appreciated Muschamp’s sentiment, which falls in line with a recent Big Ten mandate, but does not necessarily think it is feasible. “In a perfect world, you play all [FBS] schools,” he told the Orlando Sentinel’s Edgar Thompson, “but you also have to have 12 opponents.”

Alabama head football coach Nick Saban agreed with both Muschamp and Foley, noting that he would ideally like to schedule all non-conference games against big-five league teams before conceding that it is much easier said than done. “We can’t just call people up and say, ‘We want to have a game.’ It’s not like setting up a golf game,” he said.

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SEC keeps eight-game schedule, adds mandate

College football fans – and members of other conferences – have been waiting with baited breath for the Southeastern Conference to announce its future football scheduling plans. When the league finally did so on Sunday evening, at least as far as the Florida Gators are concerned, not much has changed.

The SEC announced on Sunday that schools will continue to play eight league games – six against divisional opponents and two against cross-divisional opponents, one permanent and the other on a rotating basis.

The addition to the SEC’s scheduling mandate is that all 14 conference teams will be required to play at least one opponent from another “big five” conference – the ACC, Big 12, Big 10 or Pac-12 – beginning in 2016. Florida will not be forced to make any changes or major additions to its schedule due to its annual game against Florida State.

UF will continue its annual series against LSU, its designated permanent cross-divisional opponent, which dates back to 1971. The Gators have maintained that they welcome the adversity of facing one of the SEC West’s best teams each season, but the Tigers continue to believe the relationship creates an unfair disadvantage for the schools.

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Florida diving coach Donnie Craine passes away

Florida Gators men’s and women’s diving coach Donnie Craine, 61, died Thursday afternoon in a boating accident 260 miles south of Gainesville, Florida in Bokeelia.

According to The Associated Press:

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which is investigating the accident, says two vessels turned in the same direction near Pine Island in southwest Florida and collided. Two people were aboard one boat, and four in the other. The others in the crash suffered only minor injuries and did not require treatment.

Craine had just completed his 37th year as a coach, 32nd at UF. His accomplished career both started (1976-81) and has now ended (1989-2014) with the Gators.

“Our thoughts are with Mindy, their family and all who had a chance to know and be coached by him,” athletic director Jeremy Foley said in a school release. “This is such sad news about Donnie Craine. Donnie loved being a Gator and spent his career here coaching our men’s and women’s diving athletes. He will be missed.”

Craine was named the NCAA Diving Coach of the Year in 1985 while at Arkansas and SEC Men’s Diving Coach of the Year in 1988 with LSU. He was also a six-time SEC Women’s Diving Coach of the Year with the last three of those awards coming as the head coach at Florida (1998, 2010-11).

A native of Fort Lauderdale, Craine coached divers to five individual national championships (two with the Gators) and 19 SEC titles (12 at Florida).

Along with head swimming coach Gregg Troy, Craine helped the Gators program win two women’s NCAA Championships, 11 women’s SEC Championships (eight-straight) and eight men’s SEC Championships (five-straight).

“You’ll never meet a nicer guy than Donnie Craine,” Troy said. “He was caring for not just the athletes he worked with, but for everyone he came in touch with. He was a tremendous family man. This is a great loss to everyone.”

OnlyGators.com sends our deepest condolences to the Craine family.

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Buddy Alexander to retire after 27 years at Florida

The second-longest-tenured head coach in school history, Buddy Alexander has decided to retire after nearly three decades at the helm of the highly-successful Florida Gators’s men’s golf program.

Alexander, who will coach out his 27th and final season with the team, has led Florida to two national titles (1993, 2001), 11 top-10 finishes in the NCAA Championships and eight SEC Championships (1989, 1991-94, 1999, 2003, 2011). He is also a three-time GCAA National Coach of the Year and eight-time SEC Coach of the Year who was inducted into the GCAA Coaches Hall of Fame in 2001.

In short, Alexander is Gators golf.

“He’s one of the all-time greats,” Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley told Scott Carter of the school’s website as part of Alexander’s retirement announcement. “He’s had a heck of a run. There’s no better Gator than Buddy Alexander.”

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Florida extends Billy Donovan through 2018-19

On the heels of the Florida Gators’ fourth-straight appearance in the Sweet 16, the school on Tuesday released details of a three-year contract extension signed in February that will keep head coach Billy Donovan with the program at least through the conclusion of the 2018-19 season.

Donovan previously signed a three-year extension in Dec. 2011, and his new deal is a near-carbon copy of the previous extension, which was added on top of the six-year contract he signed after returning to the Gators ahead of the 2007-08 campaign.

Donovan’s latest contract will raise his salary slightly, paying him approximately $3.7 million per year, combining his base salary ($220,000) with an activities agreement ($2.77 million), apparel deal with Nike ($225,000), annual longevity bonus ($340,000) and expense/travel account ($100,000 combined).

As part of his new deal, Donovan will be paid $2.67 million for his activities agreement in 2014-15 and 2015-16 (concluding his original deal) before receiving a $100,000 raise to $2.77 million as part of the extension.

The new contract also provides him with a $250,000 bonus for this season, topping him out at $3.8 million before performance incentives. His total earnings for 2013-14 currently stand at $4 million.

While Donovan no longer has a non-compete clause – a restriction put in place as part of his 2007 deal which kept him out of the NBA for five seasons – in his contract, he still must receive express written consent from athletic director Jeremy Foley before discussing – directly or indirectly – a position with either a professional franchise or another college team.

The Gators provide Donovan with a number of incentives in his contract including $37,500 for making the NCAA Tournament, another $37,500 for earning a Sweet 16 berth, an additional $25,000 for getting to the Final Four and another $150,000 for winning the national championship. Donovan can also receive $25,000 for being named the AP SEC Coach of the Year, $25,000 for winning the SEC Tournament title, $50,000 for earning the SEC regular season crown, $50,000 for finishing in the top-10 of the final AP poll, and $50,000 for being named AP National Coach of the Year.

He can also earn either an additional month’s salary for graduating 60 percent of his players or 10 percent of his annual salary if he hits an 80 percent graduation rate.

Donovan has led Florida to five Southeastern Conference regular-season titles, four SEC Tournament Championships, three Final Fours and two NCAA Championships. The Gators will play in their fourth consecutive Sweet 16 on Thursday as they hope to advance to the Elite Eight for the fourth-straight season.

On Saturday, he passed Dale Brown of LSU for second all-time in total wins at an SEC school with 449 but still stands 426 behind Adolph Rupp of Kentucky (875).

Contract talks between Donovan and Foley are informal in nature, a source close to the coach told OnlyGators.com this fall, which is also evident as terms of his extensions have remained relatively consistent throughout his career. Donovan signing his extension is considered to be simply a formality at this point.

Photo Credit: H. Darr Beiser/USA Today

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