By Agence France-Presse
The University of Florida made a temporary relocation pitch to NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball teams on Thursday, a day after the governor declared the state open for sport.
University of Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin touted the school’s major college sports venues, including the 12th-largest stadium in the United States, a new ballpark and an arena between them.
“We’ve been receiving excellent guidance from our state and health care officials,” Stricklin said. “When those groups believe it’s safe to host college and pro sporting events in Florida, we will be prepared to do so.”
The coronavirus pandemic has shut down sports leagues across the United States, although Ultimate Fighting Championships events began last Saturday in Jacksonville and four-man golf skins games involving top-ranked Rory McIlroy and 15-time major winner Tiger Woods are set for this month on “Sunshine State” courses.
With some NFL, NBA and MLB teams potentially unable to begin restart plans or stage games due to virus stay-at-home rules in their areas, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis offers open arms in welcome.
“I’ve already spoken with some of our colleges like the University of Florida,” he told Fox News on Thursday.
“They have got a great football stadium — “The Swamp” — that’s not used on Sundays, so if an NFL team needs a place to land we could work that out, too.”
The campus in Gainesville is located only 71 miles from Jacksonville, 114 miles from Orlando and 132 miles from Tampa — so any NFL, NBA or MLB team would have a nearby rival.
“Following Governor DeSantis’ comment yesterday inviting other pro teams to participate in our state, I reached out to remind him and UF and Gainesville have world-class health care facilities, an iconic football stadium, a state-of-the-art basketball arena and a brand new baseball ballpark within two hours of cities with professional franchises,” Stricklin said.
Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, known as “The Swamp” to Gators fans, seats 88,548 with more than 90,000 often packing it for major college gridiron showdowns to see a team that won US national titles in 1996, 2006 and 2008.
Final sod was installed last month at the new $65 million Florida Ballpark for a Gators team that won the 2017 national crown.
The O’Connell Center basketball arena, home of a Gators team that Joakim Noah led to 2006 and 2007 national titles, underwent a $64.5 million renovation in 2016.