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Sunday, November 27, 2022

UF balances exclusivity, program competitiveness with new $85 million football complex

The complex drew inspiration from Louisiana State and Alabama

The front entrance of the James W. “Bill” Heavener Football Training Center Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2022.
The front entrance of the James W. “Bill” Heavener Football Training Center Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2022.

Zero-gravity chairs, a cryotherapy chamber and a screen large enough for the football team to line up and strategize — all features of UF’s new high-tech football facility made exclusively for the Florida Gators.

Many hope UF’s investment of $85 million into Gators football pays off, as the team hasn’t won a national or conference championship in 14 years.

As Florida comes off the high from Saturday’s win, players can use its new football complex to continue training between games. The new James W. “Bill” Heavener Football Training Center is part of an effort to match the dominance of Southeastern Conference rivals Alabama and Georgia, both on the field and, more importantly, on the recruiting trail.

The center opened Aug. 14, but its construction started in June 2020. In the planning stages, UF representatives visited athletic facilities around the country for inspiration, including Alabama and Louisiana State, said Florida Gators spokesperson Chip Howard.

LSU built its stand-alone football facility in 2006 and underwent a $28 million renovation in 2019. Alabama’s athletic facility and Bryant-Denny Stadium have both seen significant renovations and upgrades over the last decade as well, with a $16 million overhaul in 2020 as part of a 10-year, $600 million athletic renovation plan on campus. 

“I think what we set out to do was to identify what our needs were at the University of Florida and then traveled to other facilities to see what concepts they had that maybe we had not thought of, ideas that we would utilize,” Howard said.

The Heavener Center is open only to student athletes. There are more than 500 UF student athletes as of Spring 2022, according to the UF Intercollegiate Athletics Committee

However, there were 61,112 students enrolled in Fall 2021, according to the UF Institutional Planning and Research office. Some students have voiced their concerns about UF prioritizing a small margin of the student body with the opening of the training facility.

The new football complex also features amenities such as a dining hall and lounge space for all student athletes, not just the football program. The rest of the facility is reserved for football players and staff. 

“The biggest benefit is the dining hall and the athlete amenity area,” Howard said. “Not only are we able to provide a great sports nutrition experience for all of our student athletes in our dining hall, but they have a place to relax and lounge around.”

The facility is still a football-centric project and is expected to be an asset to the program. The building is directly connected to the Gators’ indoor practice facility, creating one connected building between the practice space and the other areas.

The convenience will be a “game changer” for football student athletes, Howard said.

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Among the football-specific amenities is a brand new locker room. Each of the 135 lockers cost $15,000, Howard said. There are also multiple recovery pools, a room equipped for athletic trainers to work with players and a cryotherapy chamber.

The development was primarily funded through booster contributions and revenue generated by the University Athletic Association. Those UAA revenues are used to fund UAA projects like the Heavener Center.

Gator Boosters Inc. — the booster organization that raises a majority of the contributions to the UAA — averaged around $39 million in football and facility upgrades contributions between 2016 and 2019 for projects such as the new center.

The UAA also received significant contributions from mega donors including James Heavener, for whom the facility is named, and Conlan Company CEO Gary Condron, alongside seven other individual contributions ranging between $1 million and $5 million from other boosters.

Heavener is an acting member on UF’s Board of Trustees. He is a member of the Warrington Business Advisory Council, the UF Foundation Board of Directors, the UF Alumni Association and is a past-president and Legacy Director of the Gators Boosters Inc. He is the namesake for the Heavener College of Business, the Heavener Football Complex at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium and now the new football training facility. 

Some students are excited for the impact the facility will have on the Gators football team. 

Ethan Pollock, a 19-year-old business sophomore, is a longtime Florida football fan and said he believes it’s important for the team to have the best resources to stay competitive in the SEC. 

“This new facility allows our football program to offer a world-class experience to recruits and be able to compete with the likes of nearby powerhouses like Georgia and Alabama,” Pollock said.

Other students are concerned the university is devoting its time and resources to the facility instead of focusing on other campus buildings more applicable to the entire student body such as housing. 

Olivia Giovenco, a 19-year-old English sophomore, recalls hearing about the horrors of living in disheveled dorms like Rawlings Hall. In her view, it’s unfair that the university prioritizes the well-being of a small percentage of students over the entire student body, she said.

Rawlings, which is slated to be demolished in 2023, went viral on TikTok for student opinions about its living conditions.

“Students shouldn’t have to live in buildings infested with mold just so football players can have a resort-style pool,” Giovenco said. 

Because Florida’s sports teams bring in millions of dollars for the school, Giovenco said the school has a greater incentive to make those students comfortable over other students.

One TikTok user, @spicytunaconnoisseur, posted a viral video comparing Graham Hall’s communal bathrooms’ conditions to the new training facility. The video received more than 124,000 views and hundreds of comments with concerns for their living conditions in these older dorm buildings.

“I think it’s indicative of where the school’s priorities are at,” Giovenco said. “Unfortunately, places like the Rawlings area are getting put on the back burner at the expense of students that should be of equal importance to the university.” 

Contact Topher at cadams@alligator.org and Claire at cgrunewald@alligator.org. Follow them on Twitter @topher_adams and @grunewaldclaire.

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Topher Adams

Topher Adams is a third-year journalism major and the football beat reporter for The Alligator. He also covered Florida lacrosse for the paper and loves watching college football and MLS soccer.


Claire Grunewald

Claire Grunewald is a third-year journalism major and the Santa Fe reporter for The Alligator. When she is not writing or reading, she's looking for new music or going to the beach.


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