Advertisement
  1. Sports
  2. /
  3. Gators

Florida vs. Miami in Orlando is nice. But the move to home stadiums is better.

Expect neutral-site openers like the one Saturday night to fade in favor of home-and-home series.
Florida Gators head coach Dan Mullen walks into Camping World Stadium during the Gator Walk on Saturday, Aug. 24, 2019, in Orlando [ALLIE GOULDING | Times]
Published Aug. 24
Updated Aug. 24

ORLANDO — The 150th anniversary of college football kicked off Saturday night with an ode to the sport’s past and present.

No. 8 Florida and its three national titles faced Miami and its five championships to reboot a dormant rivalry.

They met at Camping World Stadium in the latest big-time neutral-site matchup at a fairly split crowd as part of the current trend that has been spicing up opening weekends.

As for the sport’s future? News on that came Tuesday when the teams announced a home-and-home series with stops at Gainesville in 2024 and Hard Rock Stadium the next year. That’s the direction college football is going for the benefit of fans, teams and the bottom line.

Miami Hurricanes fans cheer for players as they arrive before the game at Camping World Stadium. [MONICA HERNDON | Tampa Bay Times]

The neutral-site openers served their purpose well. Watching Florida State come back against Ole Miss here three years ago was much better for the sport than when the Seminoles drubbed Texas State by 43 the year before. Seeing the Gators face the Hurricanes on Saturday was more exciting for the fan base and the program than last year’s 53-6 Week 1 destruction of lowly Charleston Southern.

RELATED: Florida Gators-Miami Hurricanes coaching matchup began a decade ago at ... Middle Tennessee?

And there was undoubtedly buzz about Saturday’s matchup, starting with ESPN’s College GameDay airing from the Magic Kingdom. Tickets during the week were going for $360, making it the most in-demand event at the stadium for either program since Seat Geek began tracking the market in 2010.

But neutral-site games have lost a bit of their appeal because of what happens when the teams return home.

Fans aren’t there.

Attendance is sliding nationally, to the point where even the mighty SEC is concerned. The Gators’ attendance last year (82,328) was the lowest at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium since 1990.

Miami head coach Manny Diaz, left, talks with Florida head coach Dan Mullen before the game. [JOHN RAOUX | AP]

Programs are tackling the issue through multiple ways —alcohol sales, improved WiFi, fancier amenities. But the biggest solution is the most obvious one: Schedule better matchups on campus that fans want to see. Casual fans are much interested in watching UF-Miami at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium or at Miami than sitting through blowouts against Towson or Central Michigan.

The Gators and Hurricanes have both noticed. UF athletic director Scott Stricklin wants the Gators to play 10 Power Five opponents a year: Eight SEC games, Florida State and one more. UF has future home-and-home series with Colorado and Texas, plus Miami. The ’Canes have similar matchups coming against Michigan State and Texas A&M.

That means something has to give. Expect that something to be neutral-site games.

They won’t be going away, of course. Atlanta, Orlando and Arlington, Texas are established sites in fertile recruiting grounds. Schools will keep wanting to play in games like Saturday night’s on occasion.

But the trend is changing. Neutral-site openers made it cool and lucrative for big-name programs to face each other. They led to the upcoming wave that’s even better for the sport and those who love it.

Moving marquee matchups onto college campuses — where they belong.

Florida Gators uniforms are seen before the game against the Miami Hurricanes. [ALLIE GOULDING | Times]

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Tennessee, left, lines up for a play against Florida during the first half Saturday in Gainesville. JOHN RAOUX  |  AP
    The Calvary Christian alum impresses after missing the past two games by pouncing on a fumble and snagging an interception.
  2. Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, left, takes a hit from Florida linebacker Jonathan Greenard after throwing a pass during the first half. JOHN RAOUX  |  AP
    Where would this Gators defense be without Louisville transfer Jonathan Greenard?
  3. Florida quarterback Kyle Trask, right, throws a pass over Tennessee defensive lineman Matthew Butler (94) during the first half. JOHN RAOUX  |  AP
    It didn’t look like Kyle Trask’s first start since he was a freshman in high school.
  4. A Florida Gators fan holds a sign supporting Feleipe Franks before Saturday's game against Tennessee. MATT BAKER  |  Matt Baker | Times
    Watch: Kyle Trask enters Ben Hill Griffin Stadium as the Florida Gators’ presumptive starting quarterback.
  5. In this Jan. 2, 2017, file photo, Florida Gators coach Jim McElwain looks at the action on the field in the first half against Iowa in the Outback Bowl. Times
    Coaches hired early in the 2017-18 carousel are 40-38. Coaches hired late: 39-52.
  6. Florida Gators quarterback Kyle Trask runs the ball in for a touchdown during the third quarter against Charleston Southern last season. MONICA HERNDON  |  Tampa Bay Times
    If Kyle Trask gets the first snap, it will be his first start since he was a freshman in high school.
  7. Notre Dame running back Tony Jones Jr. (6) runs through a hole in the line during the first half against Louisville on Sept. 2. TIMOTHY D. EASLEY  |  AP
    More national college football: Jimbo Fisher, meanwhile, should be hyper focused on his quarterback, who hasn’t looked all that spiffy this season. Plus staff predictions.
  8. Tim Tebow. [Associated Press)] Associated Press
    Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Tom Jones and Rick Stroud debate Tebow, Dickie V, the first-place Bucs and the Rays playoff chase
  9. Notre Dame defensive lineman Jonathan Bonner (55) celebrates a sack of Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm (11) during the second half of 2017 game. Georgia defeated Notre Dame 20-19. MICHAEL CONROY  |  AP
    Unlike last week, Saturday’s slate is loaded. Sit back and enjoy. Plus: Times staff predictions.
  10. The Bucs will get their first look at rookie Daniel Jones Sunday when he starts for the New York Giants in a 4:25 p.m. game against Tampa Bay at Raymond James Stadium. FRANK VICTORES  |  AP
    Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Exploring quarterback changes for the New York Giants, Florida Gators and USF Bulls.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement