Should Florida football players get parking perks? Yes, they earned them | David Whitley

David Whitley
Gator Sports
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The University of Florida has a lot of things going for it. Ample parking never has been one of them.

It’s easier to find a penguin than a parking space on campus. So when a select group of young men gets exclusive parking privileges, 52,000 other students might have some questions. 

“Why do they get special treatment?”

“Is it because they are football players?”

Yes.

That answer makes me sort of cringe, but it’s the right one. I don’t expect everyone will agree in light of a headline that hit the internet a couple of days ago.

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$5,000 in parking tickets?

The story was from Fresh Take Florida and basically said: UF issues millions in campus parking fines. But football players don’t have to pay up.

The news service from UF’s College of Journalism and Communications noted how coach Billy Napier secured a parking lot for players and cajoled the school into forgiving their parking tickets.

Most of that wasn’t breaking news since players have been praising their new-and-improved parking situation for months. But there was some good digging, especially if you’re in a UF parking ticket fantasy league.

Your No. 1 pick in the next draft undoubtedly should be Jaydon Hill. The cornerback racked up 101 tickets between 2019 and 2021 for a total bill of $5,460.

I don’t know if that’s an NCAA record, but it made Hill the most-fined driver on campus. Coming in at No. 4 was quarterback Emory Jones, who had 75 tickets for $2,980.

And now these student-athletes are getting parking perks the average student-motorist would kill for?

It doesn’t seem right, but let’s be honest, football players aren’t regular students.

They are arguably more important to campus happiness than the school president. And I’m guessing Ken Fuchs has his own parking space.

Like a lot of schools, UF long ago made a deal with the devil. If you want to have a big-time football program, certain concessions are in order.

It’s easier for players to get admitted. They get better food, medical care and tutoring than the average enrollee.

In return, schools get a product that generates tens of millions of dollars a year, enthralls students and alumni and lets them make fun of FSU.

Parking always a problem on UF campus

In that big picture, what’s a few dozen parking spaces?

Easy for me to say, since I don’t have to prowl campus five mornings a week looking for a place to leave my car. I did long ago, however, and I can assure you the parking safari wasn’t any easier in 1982 than 2022 or probably 1922.

Best I can tell, when the Florida Legislature established UF in 1906, it mandated there be one parking space for every 4,293 students and faculty. Until a few months ago, not even Tim Tebow was safe from UF’s Transportation and Parking Services ticket patrol.

That could be a pain. Just ask Kingsley Eguakun.

The Gators’ 300-pound center sprained an ankle last fall against Tennessee, and the thought of hobbling to the football facility for treatment was not appealing. So Eguakun made a business decision.

“I had to eat $700 worth of tickets,” he said. “I had to park under the stadium so I could function and play… not walk a mile to class and stuff.”

To which a lot of people might go, “Wahhhh. What about the 160-pound engineering major who’s stuck in a walking boot?”

With all due respect, he doesn’t have to spend the next Saturday night trying to block an SEC defensive tackle. And the mood of campus Monday morning depends far more on Eguakan being able to do his job than the regular kid being able to get to the library.

COVID policy led to ticket forgiveness

Football players didn’t invent that world. They just get ticketed in it.

It is ridiculous to get 101 of them. I doubt Napier tried to get Hill out from under that stack.

The coach really didn’t have to pull any strings. The pandemic led to a flood of illegal parking, so the university identified all students with more than 10 outstanding tickets. It required them to pay the first 10 and dismissed the remaining tickets.

The parking lot was in the works before Napier arrived. It’s the field between the football stadium and University Avenue. The University Athletic Association leases it for $12,000 a year.

That seems like a pretty good investment, though I suspect the average UF motorist still questions why football players get special treatment.

Like it or not, they deserve it.

— David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at dwhitley@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidEWhitley

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