Florida Field Changes With The Times

The first time I stepped onto Florida Field was for a preseason scrimmage in 1987, and back then the stadium field was Astroturf with a very "hot" surface. In 1988 the surface changed, yet it was still a grind during Galen Hall's spring scrimmages that lasted up to four hours. Today Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Florida Field takes on a new look on for me and the 2003 Gator faithful. I had the opportunity to get a first-hand look at the new additions to the West stands.

I have seen many changes since my freshman year including the playing surface, the paint job and even the road that used to run behind our old dormitory (Yon Hall). Maybe the most important changes have been the SEC Championship dates painted on the South endzone complex. There is nothing like running out of the tunnel after rubbing the Gator head and hearing the crowd at Florida Field.

In 1993, I was a graduate assistant with the offense and worked for Coach Spurrier. That was the year of the famous Florida-FSU game that may have broken the sound barrior. I mean it was so loud I had to turn my headset down. Auburn was loud. Syracuse was loud. Tennessee was annoyingly loud and believe it or not even LSU has been loud (at least until we kicked it off) but nothing compared to Florida Field. Not until now.

The new press box and suites will not only make many media members and high-spending boosters very happy, but it will also increase the noise level at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. The media tour on Saturday gave us a bird's eye look at how high up and how far the University has come. The expansion cost $55 million and it looks to be well worth it when it comes to home field advantage.

The Champions Club level, which encompasses 50,050 square feet, has air conditioning as well as an open air view to soak in the game-day experience. There are 3,000 seats in the club level and may be the perfect way to view a Gator game. It is very similar to the club experience at most NFL stadiums, especially in Jacksonville where the Jaguars play. The trend from the pro level has made its way to the college level with club seats and suites to generate added revenue on game day. There are some universities that have 100 club suites in their stadium and with Florida's 62 new suites added to the 18 in the North endzone, UF is on par with the other top programs.

The President's suites and the upper level suites on levels 6 and 7 are where the beautiful private extras are located. They feature two TVs per suite, restroom, mill work and operable windows in the upper portion of the storefront. These suites go for $50,000 per year and all but two have been sold. Each level has approximately 29,000 square feet of comfort.

As for the media, seating capacity increases from 85 to 185 not counting North endzone overflow or the sidelines. The dining area is as nice as I have ever seen and I covered the Jaguars on the road in the NFL for two years. The media will have its own elevator so it will be more efficient to go up and down in the stadium.

So you thought Ron Zook was under pressure following Steve Spurrier and all those championships? How about the fact that the athletic department and the University just dumped $55 million into Ben Hill Griffin stadium to accommodate the fans and boosters. If Ron Zook is not looking over his shoulder he certainly will feel a new presence when he looks into the west stands on game day.

So Gator fans, sit back and enjoy and keep making all that noise because the new addition will not only make you proud to be a Florida Gator, but it also may impair your hearing. Bring earplugs and look out San Jose State on Aug. 30.

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