From the Director’s Desk
GAINESVILLE, Fla. Ė The landscape of college athletics is changing at a rapid pace.
On Thursday the Southeastern Conference and ESPN officially introduced the SEC Network, scheduled to launch in 2014. A week ago the College Football Playoff became a reality when officials unveiled the new system to determine major college footballís national champion starting after the 2014 regular season. Conference realignment remains a topic of conversation around the country.
Meanwhile, Florida Athletic Director Jeremy Foley is often involved in the discussions that alter the landscape.
Foley was in Atlanta on Thursday for the SEC Networkís introduction and in Pasadena, Calif., last week when the College Football Playoff was announced. His primary responsibility is to understand how those changes will impact the University of Florida athletic department and to devise a plan that ensures the Gatorsí best interests are carefully considered from all angles.
UF teams have won 21 NCAA national titles since Foley took over in 1992, most recently the first NCAA gymnastics title in school history. Whether itís courtside during the NCAA Tournament or on a Saturday afternoon at McKethan Stadium, Foley continues to remain a visible presence at athletic events in his 37th year working at UF.
As an avenue to stay connected to Gator Nation, Foley will sit down periodically with GatorZone.com to discuss some of the issues of the day and provide his view on items of interest to Gator fans.
This is the first installment of our ďFrom the Directorís DeskĒ featuring Foley:
Q: What does the College Football Playoff mean to college athletics?
A: Itís something the media and the public have talked about for a long, long time. Itís a model that a lot of people have reviewed and a lot of people have weighed in on. I think itís going to be extremely successful and I think itís only going to enhance the college game. The interest is going to be phenomenal and obviously itís going to generate some significant dollars. I think itís a win-win and itís going to generate such conversation and media attention that itís going to be a tremendous boost for the game.
Q: You were quoted by the Wall Street Journal that you would not be interested in being part of the selection committee for the playoff?
A: The selection process is going to be very, very difficult. Itís not impossible but it is difficult. Iíve said that from day one. First of all, I trust the [conference] commissioners, who are very talented at what they do and are really responsible for where we are today. They have built a tremendous model. I thought they did it with the BCS and Iíve always been a big BCS fan, it was pretty good to the University of Florida. But Iím fine with the new model, too. The challenge is to figure out who is going to be on that committee. I think the pressure on the committee will be significant because you are picking four teams, not 68 like you are for the basketball tournament.
Q: How will the SEC Network perhaps change things from a Gator fanís perspective?
A: Obviously they are going to see SEC sports 24/7. I think the decision was made because itís going to enhance the SEC brand. Candidly, itís got a chance when it grows Ė itís not going to be this way off the bat Ė but when it grows it can generate significant dollars to run this enterprise not just here but at 13 other schools. It will certainly market this brand, market the SEC and give a lot of exposure to all sports and all athletes across the board. When you are trying to fill programming 24 hours a day, seven days a week, thereís going to be a lot of chances for teams to get great exposure. I think from a Florida fanís perspective on the short term, there might be a little pain because we have had a significant situation with Sun Sports. In essence weíve had our own cable network within the state of Florida, in 6 million homes. That will change because the inventory that has been on Sun Sports is now going to be on the SEC Network. Itís not going to be a situation where if a baseball game is not on the SEC Network, can you put it on Sun Sports? No, because all the rights have been assigned to the league, so that will be a change. Exactly how some things sift down that is to be determined. What we have talked about internally, weíll do a good job of educating our fans to exactly what it means. As we learn more weíll tell them. I donít want any surprises. I donít want anyone not knowing the lay of the land. Any time there is change, any time itís different, itís going to take a little while for people to get used to it. In the the big picture, itís going to be good for the University of Florida, itís going to be good for the league, and I think itís going to be good for the fans.
Q: Whatís the latest update on the proposed renovation of the OíConnell Center?
A: Weíre committed to it. The key is raising the money. Itís a $50 million project and I think weíve got about $16 million pledged toward it at this point in time. Itís not a project we can go borrow money for, itís a project that weíre going to have to have to count on donors to assist us. Iím confident that just like in the past, this university has always had donors to step up and help us get to where we are today. Until we have a significant financial commitment, weíre not going to know anything about timetables and weíre not going to know exact designs. There are a lot of unanswered questions but I do think from a fanís perspective, they know that itís very, very high on our priority list and itís something that we are committed to getting done.
Q: Every time a Gators football game doesnít sell out Ė and other major programs have experienced this of late Ė it prompts a lot of chatter on social media and among fans. How much concern do you have in not just building attendance, but maintaining it while dealing with certain economic and technological factors out of a schoolís control?
A: Itís certainly a topic that we discuss here almost every day. We have the best fans in America and Iíve said that for as long as Iíve been athletic director Ė their loyalty, their consistency is off the charts. Your base core of fans will always be with you. For a lot of different reasons, whether itís our pricing structure, the economy, flat-screen TVs, the comfort of your own home, the schedule, there are a lot of moving parts to that conversation. Trust me itís something weíre looking at. We want to make sure the game-day experience here is as good as anywhere in the country so weíre working on some things along those lines as well. We do not have our head in the sand and we recognize that challenge and we are going to work really, really hard to deal with it.