Florida vs. FGCU: The Griffin family connection

By Adam Silverstein
March 25, 2013

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.


  1. Joe says:

    While in fact he did donate the land for FGCU, it wasn’t for purely altruistic reasons.

    Florida Trend reported in October 2001, “As Florida Gulf Coast University grows and adjacent cattle lands are bulldozed for development, Alico’s 10,000 acres around the university are skyrocketing in value, in some cases, from $5,000 an acre to upward of $90,000.”

    Not to mention that by donating the land for FGCU, Alico got the state and Lee county to foot the bill for all the infrastructure (roads, water, sewer, electric) so that it could development all their adjacent land and not have to pay a dime for any of it.

    • Certainly building a university in an area will increase the value of land around that area as it will be used for residential and commercial purposes. I’m not necessarily sure that puts a black-eye on the donation, however. It’s no different than major companies sponsoring big charities partially for the PR benefit of the association and the additional business and brand loyalty that can be acquired from such moves. But definitely a very interesting note, thanks for sharing.

      • Joe says:

        Not trying to put a black eye on anything, and UF athletics certainly wouldn’t be where it is today without the generosity of the Griffin family. I just wanted my fellow OGGOA readers to know, as Paul Harvey would say, “the rest of the story”.

  2. Matt says:

    Based on my experience, it is usually jealous or stingy people who are quick to point out the supposed “ulterior” motives behind other people’s generosity.

  3. Collegeballdude says:

    He’s simply a very astute business man! I was president of a community college and could share numerous stories of how donations to the college foundation are brokered on the golf course or back room. Not always but typically they involve a quid pro quo arrangement. The naming of facilities in honor of the donor is a frequent request. And sometimes we just have to say ” thanks but no thanks”. The story about Griffin III just made be smile!

  4. ziggy says:

    Making money by helping others is >>> than making money at other people’s expense.

  5. Michael Jones says:

    That’s great stuff, Adam. Always interested in the Griffin family history, particularly given all they’ve done for UF. Also enjoyed Joe’s contributions.

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