GC’s interview with Associate AD Mike Hill

The University of Florida men’s basketball program has stomped all the way to the Elite 8 in each of the previous two seasons.

After winning back-to-back national championships in one of the most dominating runs in the history of college basketball, the Gators are now included within the upper echelon of NCAA basketball programs. A lot of that has to do with the behind-the-scenes efforts of plenty of members of the school’s athletic department, headlined by Senior Associate Athletic Director Mike Hill.

Find out what Hill had to say regarding the upcoming season, and where Florida is headed as a program, in his interview with GC’s very own Brent Mechler.

For years – I don’t know how many, maybe five, but it could have been more – Senior Associate Athletic Director Mike Hill endured my emails. As the unlucky recipient of my many rants on topics ranging from “spirit squads” at neutral site games to out-of-conference scheduling, poor Mike heard it all. Though I am sure he pounded the keyboard, angrily grumbling profanities as he typed, Mike always responded, and did so with replies that were more professional and insightful than my questions often warranted. So, when I got this new gig at GatorCountry, who do you think I hit up for an interview? You guessed it!

Mike is a self-described “hoops guy”, who in my humble opinion, the Gator Nation is most fortunate to have involved with its basketball program. They are not the only lucky one, as I am also most fortunate that Hill doesn’t hold a grudge, or perhaps has yet to discover the “block” feature on his email. Either way, he once again answered my questions – a lot of them – on a variety of topics relating to our basketball program. A few of those questions came from you. . . my loyal (well, only 2 columns to date, but so far, loyal) readers.

Anyway, I give you, Mike Hill:

Coming off back-to-back Elite 8 appearances, where do you see Gator basketball within the landscape of the hoops world and in comparison to the historically upper-echelon programs?

Coach Donovan and his staff have done a phenomenal job of recruiting and developing talent here at Florida, and that bodes well for the future.  We’ve gone to four Elite 8’s now in the past seven years, which only North Carolina and Kansas have done, so that shows you the kind of company we’re keeping now in the college basketball world.

What do you see as the biggest challenges facing our program, and what are the biggest challenges for the Athletic Department relating to basketball?

For any college basketball program competing at this level, it is a challenge to manage your roster and project your recruiting needs.  You never know how long a highly-recruited player may stay.  Brad Beal is gone after one season, and obviously he made a great choice based on his draft position, but so often it’s hard to know just how long a kid will be here and what vacancies you might have to deal with on your roster due to attrition.  Billy and his staff are really good at this, though, despite those challenges.  Generally, recruiting has gotten even more competitive and more difficult, so it’s a credit to our coaches that they put us in a position to be so successful every season.

One of the challenges we face as an athletic department is energizing our fan base before the SEC schedule begins in January.  This is not unique to Florida, though, and is something that schools across the country face.  Personally, I would love to see the season pushed back at least a month so that it doesn’t get lost in the stretch run of college football.  C.M. Newton (former chair of the NCAA rules committee) and others have also proposed this, and I hope it will gain some traction.

Each season the message boards buzz with a several “annual topics”. Here are a few of the more popular for you to chime in on:

1) Why did we discontinue Midnight Madness, and will it return?

Whether or not we stage Midnight Madness is something that we decide collectively with the basketball staff.  The most successful Midnight Madness events that we have had were on home football weekends, because the population of Gainesville swells with all of the out-of-town fans.  The past few years, the first basketball practice dates have fallen on the same night as Gator Growl, in which case we have integrated basketball into the Growl show.  This year, it happens to fall on the Friday of a road football weekend, and our basketball staff felt that they would be better served to have a regular, full practice instead of a Madness show, especially with such a tough opener looming against Georgetown.  I do think you’ll see Madness again in the future, though.

2) In what ways, and why has the University and/or Athletic Department restricted “camping out” for tickets? Did Billy tire of making free-pizza runs?

The current camp-out policy has been in place for a long, long time, well before the national championship years, in fact.  Over 10 years ago, when students were camping out for days on end, there was concern on campus about students missing class, so we met with University officials to develop a plan that would allow camp-outs on weekends.  Billy and some of our players and staff still feed the Rowdy Reptiles when there is a strong gathering, and we will continue to do this.  Student attendance was up last season, which was a very encouraging sign.

3) Why not play UMiami in the Orange Bowl Classic, or make it a two-day tournament? Speaking of tournaments, why not more participation in preseason tournaments that offer exciting locations to recruits and fans?

We have some exciting pre-season events and tournaments scheduled for the future, including the Jimmy V Classic in 2013, the Battle 4 Atlantis in 2014, the Hall of Fame Classic in 2015, and Old Spice in Orlando in 2016.  We will continue to play in the Orange Bowl Classic, too, because of our strong fan base in south Florida.  I wouldn’t rule out playing Miami in the future, but so much of it depends upon the rest of our schedule and how difficult it already is.

As for scheduling, is it true the entire scheduling philosophy changed because you and the staff tired of my emails? I’m kidding… sort of. But there has been a very noticeable improvement in recent seasons. How much of this was response to NCAA Selection Committee stating its emphasis versus value for the fans?

Credit Coach Donovan for his willingness to play a tough schedule, because what we play now is quite the opposite of what we used to play.  While you can certainly argue the merits of whether or not our teams deserved NCAA bids in 2008 and 2009, the bottom line is that we hurt ourselves by not playing a schedule that would impress the selection committee.  After those two seasons, we shifted our scheduling philosophy, which benefits the team and also the fans.  Think about for a second what we have facing us this year in the non-conference – Georgetown, Wisconsin, Marquette, Florida State, Arizona, Kansas State, UCF, and Middle Tennessee – plus two additional SEC games (18 now instead of 16).  That is a phenomenal line-up of opponents, and the plan is to stay the course for future years.

The O’Connell Center is getting old. Speaking of old, I still call it the O-Dome. Anyway, what are the mid- to long-term plans for renovatons/improvements?

As with any facility, there are always discussions about the future, and the O’Dome is certainly something that we continue to evaluate for the immediate and long-term.  We are very aware of the facilities at other programs and what we are competing against, so we will keep a close eye on this.

Here is a question directly from a fan. . . and a pretty good one. Our students provide a tremendous environment, but unlike many other arenas, it is set up so that the student section is “off camera”. Your thoughts on flipping alumni-student sides so that the atmosphere is best portrayed on television?

We have been reviewing this for quite a while now, and I expect that you will see the camera locations change in the near future, though not for this season.

A frustration often expressed by fans relates to sold, but unused tickets. Touch on the ticket donation program as I am not sure many know of its existence.

Fans can donate their tickets to the Ticket Bank, and the UAA will donate them to area charities.  In addition, there is a now-free service called Ticket Forwarding which allows fans to forward their tickets to a friend, who can then print the tickets at home and attend the game.  So there are great options for fans who have tickets but cannot attend every game.  All of this information can be found on-line at gatorzone.com.

Along those lines. . .there are often a lot of empty 3rd level seats. Some suggest the pricing for level 3 seats is too high. Thoughts?

The third level seats are priced more inexpensively than the lower two levels.  For most games, tickets are $20 for the lower levels, and $12 for the upper levels.  There are a few marquee games, such as Wisconsin, Marquette, and Missouri, for which tickets are $25 and $20.  We also offer new group rates for almost every game this season, and that information can also be found on gatorzone.com

Does the Athletic Department ever use message boards and fan forums to gauge fan sentiment on topics and occurrences? What is your Gator Country screen name?

Sure.  There are times when I check out the boards, and I’m sure others do as well.  Part of our job is to understand the pulse of our fan base, and while message boards alone are not the answer, they can provide some indication of how a select group of fans are feeling about certain topics.  Tupac never disappoints.

Any predictions or insights for the upcoming season?

I really believe it will be another great season for Gator basketball.  Of course, if we don’t survive this non-conference slate, Billy may ask someone else to handle scheduling next year.