News: Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley discussed Florida's planned renovations of the O'Connell Center at length last week at SEC meetings in Destin, Florida, mentioning that the Gators are closing in on funding for the project (set to cost between $45 and $50 million), that the renovation is planned to begin in March 2015 and be completed by January 2016, and, most interestingly, that Florida's men's basketball team could barnstorm the state of Florida while it is unable to play in its home arena.
Take: While I've known and/or surmised a fair bit of this for a while, it's a good sign for the O'Dome renovation that Foley is speaking about it publicly and in detail — I don't think he would be doing that without being very confident that the money is there for his proposed timeline to be met. I'd previously heard that Florida had about $30 million of the $50 million it is projecting for the renovation, and was confident it would raise the rest, and I've heard nothing since to contradict that.
I've also assumed from the start that a renovation would impact the fall-semester games volleyball and men's and women's basketball usually play in the O'Dome, and have been really curious as to how Florida would work around that problem. A barnstorming solution make sense for men's hoops: The Gators could play what would amount to weekend series in Orlando, or Tampa, or Jacksonville, or Miami, cutting down on costs and treating the Florida fans who don't get to drive up to Gainesville for basketball games to tilts in their backyard. Imagine Florida playing a marquee team — I'm picking Michigan out of a hat, because of the future football game between the two schools that suggests the Wolverines can get creative — in Orlando's palatial Amway Center, then playing UCF in a true or de facto road game.
It would be fun, from a mettle-testing standpoint, for Florida to play at Miami and at Florida State — Florida is currently slated to meet FSU in Gainesville in 2015, given that annual series' home-and-home rotation, but that could be changed up on a one-time basis — and at all the rest of the Sunshine State's teams that year. But there will have to be a balance of fantasy scheduling and checkbook, er, balancing: Giving up essentially half of its home games means that Florida basketball's giving up a significant chunk of change that pays for parts of its operating budget.
That also makes me think we could see a big non-conference game or two in January or February 2016. One of those unorthodox showdowns squeezed into Florida's SEC schedule would be a way to give local fans a chance to see a big non-SEC game without traipsing across the state, and would help make back some of the revenue that will be inevitably lost in the fall.
Additionally, Florida has to think about its volleyball and women's basketball teams, non-revenue squads that don't have men's basketball's advantages. (Swimming and diving have similar issues, but I bet they just spend the fall on the road and spring at home.) I'd expect the women's team to follow the men's team around the state a fair bit to cut down on travel costs, but the volleyball team won't have that luxury. It's going to be really interesting (to me, anyway) to see how Florida handles keeping that program happy if its home floor is unusable for an entire season.
News: The Miami Herald reported last week that Florida and Miami were in discussions to make a home-and-home series between the two schools' men's basketball programs happen, something that The Palm Beach Post and various Florida outlets — thanks largely to associate athletic director Mike Hill's availability during a rain delay in the Gainesville Regional this past weekend — confirmed over the weekend.
Take: Bring on the 'Canes.
Florida setting up a home-and-home series that would begin in Gainesville in 2014 and end in Miami in 2015 makes almost too much sense. The Gators won't be sacrificing what would otherwise be a slot for a game against a blue-blood, given that they'll be accomodating those games in different ways this fall and next. Florida probably needs a relatively cheap road game like one at Miami for 2015, given the O'Dome reno. And Jim Larrañaga, who is already perhaps the best coach Miami has ever had, will have the Hurricanes playing at a level high enough that the risks inherent in scheduling a home-and-home will be minimal.
Those risks — which basically amount to concerns about whether a team will end up with games that damage its RPI — are why Florida has limited its home-and-home series to Florida State and a rotating cast of national powers — Arizona, Connecticut, Kansas, Wisconsin — in recent years. It would have been silly for Florida to take on Miami at the tail end of the Frank Haith years, when Miami was juat good enough to maybe upset Florida, but never good enough to boost the Gators' RPI even with a loss. Larrañaga, on the other hand, has already produced one Sweet Sixteen team and another absurdly competitive team of scrubs in two seasons in Coral Gables, and there's little fear that he won't have Miami at a level that makes playing the 'Canes a win-win (even if you lose) proposition in the next two seasons.
It's not a substitute for the Florida-Miami football rivalry, and it wouldn't be wise to mistake it for such. Florida and Miami have met 67 times — Florida holds a 45-22 series edge — in the schools' history, but just four times since meeting in February and December 1990, and last met in the 2009 NIT. There is not a significant history between these two schools in this sport for anyone under the age of 30.
But Miami's a rival, and these games will be fun. Mostly.