Aircraft carrier game put together in month

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida’s 2012-2013 basketball schedule was finished. And it was a good one, too.

The Gators were playing home games against Wisconsin, Marquette and Central Florida and road games at Arizona, Yale and Florida State. There also were neutral-site games against Kansas State and a TBD opponent in the Orange Bowl Classic.

Most schools around the country were still trying to fill dates in mid-May, so it’s understandable why Mike Hill, UF’s senior associate athletics director for external affairs and the person responsible for basketball scheduling, was feeling pretty good.

Then Alan Verlander called. The director of sports and entertainment for the city of Jacksonville, Fla., said he was trying to put together a basketball game on an aircraft carrier and would the Gators be interested?

So much for the schedule being done.

"I told [UF coach] Billy [Donovan], 'If there’s an aircraft carrier parked in Jacksonville with a basketball game being played there I don’t know how Florida can’t be involved,' " Hill said. "He said, 'I agree.'

"We were really excited to already have our schedule done by the time we did. Most schools are still scrambling for games. We were already working on next year’s schedule and I got the call. It threw everything into chaos."

Even though Verlander hadn’t yet found an opponent for what would turn out to be called the Navy/Marine Corps Classic, Hill started reworking the Gators’ schedule to get Nov. 9 free to play the game. The first thing that had to happen was to eliminate a game because the Gators were already at the maximum 30.

Richmond, which was supposed to play in Gainesville on Jan. 6, 2013, agreed to postpone the game until next season as long as UF agreed to another matchup in 2015. Then the Gators had to clear Nov. 9 because they were supposed to open the season in Gainesville against Central Florida that day.

Central Florida agreed to move the game to Nov. 23, but that meant the Gators had a lot of games scheduled at the end of November, so Hill asked Yale officials if they’d be fine with moving their game to Jan. 6. No problem.

Even after all that maneuvering, the Gators still didn’t have an opponent for the Navy/Marine Corps Classic. It wasn’t until earlier this week that Verlander called back and told Hill he’d gotten Georgetown.

"It was really important that it was going to be a marquee program," Hill said. "We wanted a team that was projected to be good this year and program that has a national brand, some history, some cache in the basketball world. Georgetown certainly has that."

There’s also a bit of a military and political connection since Georgetown is located in Washington, D.C. Plus, the schools have some history together, too. The series is tied 2-2, with each team knocking the other out of the postseason. Georgetown won 71-69 in the first round of the 1998 NIT and Florida won 57-53 in the Sweet 16 in 2006 en route to its first national title.

The upcoming matchup is one of three games that will be played on aircraft carriers across the county. Marquette will play Ohio State in Charleston, S.C., and Syracuse will play San Diego State on the USS Midway in San Diego.

Hill said there’s no word yet on whether President Obama will make an appearance at any of those sites, as he did last year when Michigan State and North Carolina played on Veteran’s Day last November on the USS Carl Vinson in San Diego, Calif.

"There is some hope that the president might make an appearance at our game," Hill said. "But that’s also the week of the election. A lot will depend on how the election goes and what else happens that week. We’re not promoting it or counting on it, but I wouldn’t rule out the possibility."

But even if the president doesn’t show, Hill said that won’t dampen the atmosphere or the spectacle of playing on an aircraft carrier.

"It’ll be an experience that everybody will remember," he said.