Foley updates progress with O’Connell Center

Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley addressed multiple topics Wednesday morning.

The next step in the O’Connell Center renovation is finalizing the pricing of the project, and Foley said that is close to happening. The contract and schedule are also expected to be set soon, and an announcement will be made when that occurs.

The renovation is still on schedule to start in 2016 when the Florida basketball season comes to an end. It was supposed to start after last basketball season ended but was pushed back because of an aggressive schedule and escalating costs with the project.

“I think we’re close to being able to let the world know,” Foley said. “We’re just not there yet. I would hope in the next three weeks maybe, a month or so, we can tell people this is what pricing is going to be, this is the timetable. I can tell you it’s going to happen. That I can tell you.”

BEEFING UP THE NON-CONFERENCE SCHEDULE: Florida coach Jim McElwain has already voiced his preference to play a tough non-conference game, especially in a season opener. The first-year coach said he likes getting an idea of where his team stands against a quality opponent in the first game of the season.

He’ll have a chance to do that in 2017 when the Gators face Michigan in Dallas. As Florida puts together future schedules, Foley said those types of games could continue to happen.

“I think one way we can get more aggressive, not every year, is similar to what we’re doing with Michigan in Dallas,” Foley said. “Not only is that a marquee non-conference game that will help your strength of schedule, obviously the whole country will pay attention to it, obviously it’s a great trip for your fans.”

The reason those games are more appealing than a home-and-home series is the money. Florida will get $6 million for playing Michigan, and Foley estimated the Gators make $2-2.5 million per home game depending on who the opponent is and how much Florida has to pay that opponent for the game.

“You’ve got an airplane ticket, one night in hotels, and a couple meals,” Foley said. I don’t have to pay Michigan. It’s all net, net, net. That’s serious money. The neutral site games are much more attractive that home and home games financially.”

Foley emphasized multiple times that the neutral site games are not doable for Florida every season. However, they are open to playing them in other cities such as Atlanta, Orlando or Tampa, among others, in the future.

He doesn’t want to sacrifice home games often. They’re important to the program and to the Gainesville economy, bringing in big money for local hotels and restaurants.

“I still think seven games at home is important,” Foley said. “It’s important to boosters who pay their season tickets for seven games. I think it’s important to the city of Gainesville where the economy, I’m not going to say it survives but it’s enhanced by home football games with hotels, restaurants and all those types of things.

“I do think you can get more aggressive with (neutral site games). You may say if you do that once in a while, why can’t you go home and home once in a while? Because the finances aren’t the same.”

EXPECTATIONS FOR 2015: As McElwain and the new staff prepare for their first season in Gainesville, Foley says there’s no magic number of wins for a successful season.

“I’ve never once put a number of wins on anybody around here. I want to see us getting better. I want to be that rollercoaster going up. I know we’ve got some challenges, but I’m not worried about that. I know the bar is high, and I’m not worried about that. Do I expect to create some bumps? Yeah. But we’re going to have a good year. I think there’s a new vibe around here, which is good. We got to win some games and keep building on that vibe and I think we can do that, too. Just want to see the same progress that any program wants to see.”

The goal is to build momentum. Foley has seen McElwain do that since taking over, changing the infrastructure of the program and building excitement through a strong close to the 2015 recruiting class. Continuing to build that momentum on the field this fall is the next step.

“When you bring a new coach on board, I get everybody wants success right away,” Foley said. “We all want that. It’s human nature. What’s really important is where you are in five years. That’s really important. If five years you’re sitting here and dealing with some of the things we’re dealing with the last couple of years, that’s not healthy. But if (after) five years you’re dealing with where you were with Billy at five years into was playing for (a national title), that’s what you want. That was a program headed in the right direction. That’s what I want for all our programs and certainly that’s what I want for Mac. That’s what I think is going to happen. I think it’s moving in the right direction right now.”

FLORIDA-GEORGIA GAME: Foley said again on Wednesday that he has no interest in moving the Florida-Georgia game from Jacksonville. Ticket sales generate more money for the programs, and when the teams did do a home-and-home during the 1990s, Foley said it had the feel to another big conference game like playing LSU and Tennessee do.

But having it in Jacksonville has a unique feel.

“I’m just a huge proponent for that game in Jacksonville,” Foley said. “I just think that game, the tradition of that game and what it has meant to both programs and meant to our fan base, I think I’ve said it a thousand times since you guys have known me, it’s what separates college sports and professional sports are the traditions. There’s really no bigger tradition in our football program than playing that game in Jacksonville. It’s been 80+ years now.”

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