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Supporter donates $12,500 for first FGCU football scholarship
Florida Gulf Coast University will have a football team one day, says one of its most ardent supporters, and there’s no time to waste.
Ben Hill Griffin III on Wednesday said he donated $12,500 to create the school’s first-ever football scholarship, hoping to spur other Southwest Florida football fans to do the same.
By Wednesday afternoon, someone had already pledged another $1,000, increasing the scholarship to $13,500, Griffin said.
“We’ve got two supporters now and looking for many more,” Griffin said.
FGCU President Wilson Bradshaw and Griffin flirted with the idea of building a football stadium at FGCU’s Foundation meeting Wednesday morning. In front of about 40 faculty members and FGCU big-wigs, the two briefly discussed the scholarship.
Griffin told Bradshaw he may soon have his first football team.
“Now I just have to find the first football players,” Bradshaw said.
Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at the University of Florida, also known as The Swamp, was named after Griffin III’s father, a longtime UF benefactor.
“Why wait? Let’s get started,” Griffin told the Daily News on Wednesday.
“Webber College International has a football team, and they don’t have 2,000 students. We have 13,000 students, heading to 15,000. We don’t have to have a football stadium to start with. There’s plenty of football stadiums around to start with.”
Webber International University in Central Florida, east of Tampa, has fewer than 1,000 students enrolled and added a football program in 2002.
Ave Maria University in Collier County, which also has fewer than 1,000 students, added a football program in 2011.
Two years ago, Carr Sports Associates Inc. presented a study that cast doubt on the chances of FGCU starting a football program in the near future. According to the study, it would cost FGCU more than $100 million to begin a scholarship Football Championship Subdivision (formerly I-AA) program.
The study also said the program would operate at a loss of about $4.8 million per year. The report, led by former University of Florida athletic director Bill Carr, went on to say a football program isn’t financilaly feasible.
The study stipulated that construction of a 15,000-seat stadium, with two practice fields, parking and support service facilities, would be around $90 million.
Wednesday, Griffin advocated starting the program first.
“We can start small,” he said. “We’ve been trying to start at too high a level.”
Griffin actually donated a total of $25,000 to FGCU on Wednesday, with the other $12,500 going toward a business scholarship for the Scott Lutgert Business College.
“It’s an endowment,” said Ken Kavanagh, FGCU athletic director, of the football scholarship.
Griffin pointed to the success of other FGCU athletic teams, including the women’s basketball team — the reigning Atlantic Sun Conference champs — and baseball team, which produced Chicago White Sox pitcher Chris Sale, who is among the best hurlers in all of Major League Baseball.
“There’s no reason to expect we’d have anything less for football,” he said. “And a football program would just make us a complete sports university.”
Waiting up to a decade for a football team to take the field is too long, Griffin said. And there’s no reason to think small in terms of the competition, he said, especially with the football talent produced in Southwest Florida high school programs.
“I see it as Florida Gulf Coast being able to compete with the University of Florida, (University of) South Florida, (University of) Central Florida,” he said. “I can’t see why we can’t be in that same league.”
Sports writer Dana Caldwell and Eagle News staff writer Kalhan Rosenblatt contributed to this story.
By DAVE OSBORN, Naples Daily News