From the Director’s Desk
GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The University of Florida’s 2013-14 fall athletic seasons recently concluded. The winter seasons are now underway.
UF Athletic Director Jeremy Foley has spoken publicly in recent weeks about his support of football coach Will Muschamp. While Muschamp is busy recruiting and working to fill two vacancies on his coaching staff, Foley’s mission is to keep the entire UF athletic department successful amid our changing times.
The University Athletic Association is currently working to renovate the Office of Student Life and the O’Connell Center. There are technological upgrades on the horizon for Ben Hill Griffin Stadium and Foley keeps abreast of the latest in the fall 2014 launch of the SEC Network.
Foley sat down with GatorZone.com recently to discuss these topics and more:
Q: Football gets most of the headlines during the fall, but the big picture is that the University of Florida has a highly successful overall program, how proud are you of the cumulative success?
A: We’ve always said around here that we’re proud of all 21 of our sports, and we’ve talked about it a lot this fall, the issues with our football program. With as much attention that has been directed toward football, and we understand that, what I don’t want to happen is to take away from all the other good things that are happening around here. You’ve got a soccer team that won the Southeastern Conference championship, the volleyball team competed at the highest level all fall and we had our men’s cross country team compete in the NCAA Finals. There are a lot of good things happening and part of our job is to make sure we don’t forget that. We don’t want to lose sight of that as a program and I’m very proud of what is happening in other programs and very proud of what has happened this fall.
Q: What is your assessment of the athletic department’s academic progress?
A: At the end of the day our ultimate scorecard is whether we have young men and women coming to the University of Florida and graduating. Our graduation success rate is one of the highest in the country, one of the highest in the Southeastern Conference. We’re graduated 22 student-athletes last weekend and we’re very proud of what those athletes have done. I told them [recently] when we had a luncheon for them that they are what’s good about college athletics. They have come here, they have competed at the highest level and they are graduating from one of the best institutions in America. They have learned so many lessons and represented us so well.
Q: What is the latest on the launch of the SEC Network next fall? (ESPN visited UF’s campus over the summer to inspect its broadcast technology and all systems are good to go).
A: They’re still moving forward trying to figure out what the week is going to look like, where the games are going, where replays are going, all those types of things. I’d say their biggest challenge right now is getting the distribution. At the end of the day, it’s got to get on a cable network so the people can watch it and that will certainly be the biggest job between now and next August.
Q: How much evaluation is the UAA doing in regards to the overall fan experience at sporting events?
A: Every single day. You pick up the newspaper or get on the Web, there is another article about that as it relates to the NFL, college sports, professional baseball, you name it. The focus is going to continue to be on making sure there is a positive fan experience for people coming to Gainesville. The world is different from what it was several years ago and we’ve got to make sure we are doing our part. For instance, we are working now to make sure we can get Wi-Fi in the stadium because that’s the way the world is, people want to be able to look at their devices and be able to watch replays, communicate and what have you, and right now that’s not adequate in our stadium. We will have that fixed and up and running by next fall if plans proceed the way they are proceeding now. The fan experience is huge and I think that will evolve over time. We’re going to have to continue to work on that, the thing that encourages me is that number one, we have a terrific fan base, and second of all, we have very good people internally here that are creative, pay attention, look at the trends around the country, they have traveled to different parts of the country, and we’ll transport some good ideas here to Gainesville because we want to be the best we can in that area.
Q: What is your overall message to fans who view football as the primary barometer of success for the Gators?
A: I get the fact you have some fans that are unhappy because you have a tough year in football. Our expectations are just as high as theirs, we understand it and it’s part of the world we live in. The message is, number one, we understand it. Number two, we’re going to fix it. It’s not acceptable to us; it’s not acceptable to anybody who is associated with our football program. I can assure you it’s not acceptable to the head football coach. But at some point in time, you have to put that behind you because the season is over. Now we’re going to turn to the future, we’re not going to make excuses, we’re going to start working overtime to get this shipped turned, because it has to turn for a multitude of different reasons. The message is also that not only do we appreciate their support – you might have, for lack of a better word, ‘noise’ this Fall – I also saw some great crowds at our football games. Was every single seat sold? No. But to have loud, passionate fans makes it a terrific environment, they come, they support us, they are entitled to their opinion, but at the end of the day, Gator fans are behind us. We appreciate that more than we can express. The bottom line is our fans care, and the fact they care is the reason why this place will always have a chance.
Q: A project out of the limelight is the renovation of the Office of Student Life. How important is that in the big picture?
A: As long as we’re working on a college campus that is a primary focus. I know the cynics call us the minor leagues of professional football, but we’re not. Less than 1 percent of the people around here will go play professional sports, so you better be focused on the academic component, the career development component, the human development component, and our Office of Student Life is a key component of that. I think the expansion and renovation is a key to our future. We have made that a priority and it will continue to be a priority.
Q: What is the latest on the renovation plans for the O’Connell Center?
A: We’re just trying to raise the money. That is a project that has to happen, it has been there since 1980 and it’s a huge asset to our program, but it’s tired. That’s the word we use. The fundraising is continuing, we’ve had a lot of success but we’re not where we need to be yet. We’re confident that we can generate the dollars to get this project started.