If you were asked which program in the SEC (other than Vanderbilt) is the only one without an indoor practice facility, what would your answer be?
Ole Miss? Wrong. Kentucky? Wrong. The only SEC program (other than Vanderbilt) without an indoor practice facility is Florida. From what I hear, South Carolina has a partial indoor facility (with short fields) and Georgia has one in the works. But still, in the never-ending arms race that is SEC football, how long can the Gators continue to be at or near the top without such a facility?
Do the Gators really need one? Where would it be placed? And to ask the same question that Robbie Andreu of the Gainesville Sun asked this past April, who would pay for it?
To answer the first question, one must look at the most obvious aspect. Weather.
One of the charms of Gainesville has always been the weather. Sunny, slight breeze (though I've never figured out where it comes from because it can't be the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic) and some more sunny. In typical state of Florida fashion, the months in which it rains the most historically in Gainesville have been June (5.87"), July (5.34"), August (6.69"), and September (5.33"). Does anybody want to take a guess in which month it is that Gators begin fall practice? If you guessed August, you win a pat on the back. That also just happens to be the highest average rainfall month every year.
Andreu answers that question above by pointing out that, in 2002, the Gators spent a lot of time practicing in the rain — and from what I remember, it was brutal rain. Guess what happened next? The Gators traveled to Knoxville and it poured. The advantage went to the Gators, and it resulted in a 30-13 Florida victory.
So the argument can certainly be made that the players get better acclimated to "football" conditions by practicing outside. That is one that I agree with very much, but that doesn't answer the entire question. What about missed practice time due to extreme weather conditions such as lightning and strong winds? The NCAA isn't going to allow for make-up dates because you missed a week of practice.
The next question is where would the building be placed? Well, I've heard that there are a few possible locations as to where such a facility could be built. The first option is obviously on the site of the current practice fields. It doesn't have to be a full field (though that is a plus), but out of the three outdoor fields the Gators currently have, one is 100 yards in length, the other is 90 yards and the smallest one is 60 yards. So the plan would obviously be to combine the two biggest, which would provide sufficient size for a full sized practice field.
The second place I've heard mentioned is off of Stadium Road to the south and in-between Weaver Hall and the band practice field. The third location that I've heard discussed is Flavet Field itself, but that plan seems highly, highly unlikely.
As to who would pay for it: Are you kidding me? The Gator Boosters could scrape up the money for something like this in no time at all. Just think about it. In a previous post, I pointed out that Gator Boosters arm of the UAA is expected to raise $36 million for this fiscal year. That's more than double what the average going rate is for a state-of-the-art practice facility these days. Spread the payments out over a couple of years through financing, as the UAA almost always does, and you're in business.
Probably the best question about an indoor practice facility deals with recruits. Would an indoor facility help with recruiting? In my opinion, the short term answer is no, but the long term answer is yes. Over the past decade, the Gators (aside from USC) have had arguably done the best in recruiting in all of college football. But can that momentum continue when every single team in the SEC and in the southern United States have an indoor practice facility? My guess is no. It is a commonly known fact that recruits like shiny new toys to play with.
Another reason why an indoor facility isn't considered a must for Florida is the fact that some will argue that it creates soft players. Well let me ask you this question. Would you consider Alabama's players to be soft? What about Texas'? Oklahoma's or LSU's? Didn't think so.
To get an idea of what some of the indoor practice facilities look like across the SEC, check out Alabama's Hank Crisp building, Arkansas Willard and Walker Pavilion, Auburn's facility, Kentucky's Nutter Field House, LSU's facility, Ole Miss' facility, South Carolina's facility, and Tennessee's facility.
Florida State was supposed to have an indoor practice facility completed by June 1, 2012 but according to the Orlando Sentinel, that date seems unlikely to be reached due to funding issues.
Some of those facilities are masterpieces; others, not so much. But style doesn't matter so much: Just the mere capacity for practice indoors with a full squad is worth it. As mentioned above, prices for such a building (a high-end one) range from $16 to $19 million. You'd have to figure that, knowing Foley and the rest of the UAA, the Gators would spend towards the $19 million mark, maybe more if the facility is used for more than just football. But that is a whole other issue.
Last I heard, in like March, was that 52 out of the 68 teams (I think, can't really remember) in the BCS have an indoor practice facility. Isn't it time the Gators become the next one? I know that Florida isn't one to be left behind when it comes to athletic facilities, so the time has come for an indoor practice facility. Make it happen, Foley. Before it is too late.