Building an athletic department through opponents: How UNF is using strategic scheduling to bolster its programs

Riley Platt, Sports Editor

The Ospreys have hosted some big-name opponents over the past few weeks, something that Director of Athletics Nick Morrow views as a stepping stone to creating the ideal college sports experience at the University of North Florida.

The Florida Gators were the most notable of these opponents, with UNF baseball and softball squads hosting the juggernauts from Gainesville. While the results didn’t go UNF’s way, the financial rewards far outweigh one loss on a lengthy schedule.

Morrow shared with Spinnaker that last week’s baseball game against Florida provided over $12,000 worth of ticket revenue alone. A profit like this can help sustain the program all throughout the season. This is critical, as financial stability is no guarantee for mid-major athletic programs that don’t have football or basketball attached to the name. 

 Baseball fans flocked to Harmon Stadium on Tuesday, March 1, to see the Ospreys take on the Gators. (Riley Platt)

A packed Harmon Stadium was largely made up of fans sporting blue and orange, but this isn’t something that bothers Morrow.

“It brings in some fans that don’t normally come to our venue,” Morrow said. “It gives us an opportunity to showcase our campus, our facilities, our product… and hopefully we get a few fans out of it as well cause we’ve got quality Division I athletics taking place in Jacksonville.”

For softball, the benefits are very much the same, just in smaller proportions. This is the first year that UNF has been able to utilize its upgraded softball facilities. The stadium seats 300 spectators, with an opponent like Florida making sure each and every one is filled.

The stands are largely filled even when UNF isn’t playing. The Ospreys recently hosted the UNF-JU Spring Break Challenge, with teams from all over the country taking the diamond over this past weekend. St. Francis University of Pennsylvania took on Monmouth University of New Jersey on Friday afternoon, filling the majority of the stands with fans that made the trip.

 Upgrades to the UNF Softball Complex vastly improved the team’s home, making it the modern venue seen today. Photo courtesy of UNF Athletics.

Even when hosting schools from the Mid-Atlantic, UNF has an opportunity to show off what it has to offer. When the Ospreys are on the field, though, things have been lively. Student presence at college baseball games is not something that is commonplace outside of the Southeastern Conference. This may be changing at UNF, and Morrow is here for it.

“When our students show up, we have the best atmosphere in the conference by far,” Morrow said. “Everyone admits it – we’ve experienced it firsthand – so it’s huge when they show up and they’re representing.”

Students lined the fence along third base at Harmon Stadium, making sure to taunt the opposing Gators. Interestingly enough, some were even there cheering on the Gators. This alludes to Morrow’s point about developing opposing fans into returning visitors, who may be there to see UNF one day.

 Florida State takes on Missouri in the championship game of the Jacksonville Classic at UNF Arena on Nov. 22, 2021 (Justin Nedrow)

Basketball season may be over, but UNF Arena played a key role in this concept in November 2021. The venue played host to the Jacksonville Classic, a college basketball tournament that took place on campus at UNF. 

This also brought in new fans, as supporters of the Florida State Seminoles flocked to UNF to see their team eventually win the tournament. Adding to this, UNF was able to gain national recognition with a few of the games being broadcast nationally on CBS Sports Network.

This may not be a sizable source of revenue for the University, but it circles back to the goal of bringing in new fans. 

“Obviously again, that’s the perfect example of the impact it had on campus with bringing new people there that had never been here,” Morrow said. “The City of Jacksonville also got a lot of heads in beds, so that’s an economic impact of us hosting an event that we weren’t even in.”

Sometimes, dealing with bigger schools involves compromise. While this is largely inevitable, Morrow’s vision is to approach this give-and-take strategically with UNF’s best interest in mind. One way of doing this is by scheduling road games in areas of the country with large numbers of UNF alumni.

“When you look at New York and Chicago, they have a decent alumni base, so it would be nice to interact with alumni at these games,” Morrow said. “We did that this past year when we went to Arizona State and Grand Canyon – and [UCLA] for that matter – we got to interact with 40 to 60 alumni and donors in those areas.” 

Running an athletic department at a smaller mid-major school is no job for the weak, but Morrow is up to the task. Through continued elevation of facilities and programs alike, the dream of putting UNF on the map as a legitimate destination for college athletics may become a reality in the not so distant future.


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