The Florida men’s basketball team will save between $75-100,000 from its travel budget by busing to Athens, Ga., on Friday instead of taking a charter flight in preparation for Saturday’s game at Georgia.
But the reason for the bus trip is not strictly financial. Florida associate athletic director Mike Hill said Friday that Florida’s new charter planes, which are 737s from Miami International Air, would have been unable to land in Athens.
“We would have had to land in Atlanta, get off the plane, and then take an hour-and-a-half bus trip to Athens,” Hill said.
Florida made the switch from the Delta Regional Jets to Miami International Air this season. The Gators took a charter flight to its first road game of the season, at South Carolina, which is a similar distance from Gainesville than Athens. By bus, the trip from Gainesville to Athens is about 5-6 hours.
On Thursday night, Florida coach Billy Donovan said it was “not his decision” to bus to Athens on a quick turnaround. But on Friday, Hill said he consults with the Florida basketball staff on all travel plans.
“It’s not like we are telling Billy, he has to bus on this trip or he has to bus on that trip,” Hill said.
Hill said in recent years that the Florida basketball team has bused on one SEC trip per season, or the equivalent of one trip if you include two legs of a trip. Last season, for example, Florida bused up to Auburn and South Carolina and took charter flights back. The Gators won 68-61 at Auburn and 72-46 at South Carolina (a game in which Michael Frazier made a school-record 11 3-pointers and scored a career-high 37 points). Florida also took a 5-hour bus trip to-and-from Sunrise for the Orange Bowl Classic, a game the Gators won 63-50 over Wake Forest.
But Donovan said the Gators have never done a bus trip on this quick a turnaround. The Gators left for Athens at 1:45 p.m. and were expected to arrive between 7-8 p.m. before their Saturday 2 p.m. game at Georgia.
“We’ll have to be a little bit creative, innovative, get those guys to watch some tape, do some things to try to get us as prepared as we can,” Donovan said.
Keep in mind, too, these aren’t yellow school buses. Florida is chartering out a pair of luxury coach buses that include sleeping quarters in the back. The Gators will leave for the return bus leg back to Gainesville immediately after the Georgia game, then practice Sunday and Monday in preparation for Tuesday’s game at the O’Connell Center against LSU.