For three years earlier this decade, Marlins Park would masquerade as a football venue at least once a year. From 2014 to 2016, the home of the Miami Marlins annually hosted the Miami Beach Bowl, and Butch Davis was a part of it.
Now the coach of the FIU Panthers, Davis worked for ESPN at the time and Carlos Padilla, the director of the bowl game, leaned on Davis as a consultant to figure out what players wanted out of a postseason contest.
The Miami Beach Bowl was played for the final time in 2016, and there hasn’t been a football game at the Miami stadium since. In November, that will change. FIU will serve as the home team at the the stadium’s first game since 2016 when it hosts the Miami Hurricanes for a non-conference, regular-season game.
“We’re open for business again,” Marlins president of business operations Chip Bowers said at a news conference discussing the game Wednesday at Marlins Park. “I think when the new ownership group bought this team it was important that we open up our doors on a 365-day-a-year basis. I think the football season aligns very well with our calendar in terms of having some fall and winter events. We’re excited that FIU is the first team that’s going to be able to call this a home facility for them. We’d love to have more annual events.”
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Could it include the return of a bowl game?
“We’d love to welcome back a bowl game if we can make that work,” Bowers said. “I think what you’ll find from this organization is a real commitment to not only doing things the right way, but doing in it a way that’s impactful. And we want to make sure the people of Miami, and certainly the fans of FIU, come in here ready to go and enthusiastic about the college football experience we can create.”
First the organization will get to use this upcoming game as a test run. The Hurricanes and Panthers reached an agreement for a two-game series in 2014, with one game slated to be played at Hard Rock Stadium, Miami’s home venue in Miami Gardens, and the second at a location to be determined. While the game was agreed to be a home game for FIU, the Panthers’ Ricardo Silva Stadium in Miami is too small to host a rivalry game between two schools located fewer than 10 miles apart.
Moving the second game back to Hard Rock or to Marlins Park were the two most obvious options. Davis said it was a unanimous decision within FIU to stage the game at the baseball stadium.
“This was my vote,” Davis said after the news conference in Miami. “We’re a Dade County university. We’re a Miami team. Let’s play the game in Miami. The crowd will be great, and I think it’s a huge plus for us.”
Bowers said he expects the stadium to hold about 40,000 fans for the game — capacity for the Miami Beach Bowl was 34,000 — and Panthers athletic director Pete Garcia said 15,000 tickets will be distributed by the Hurricanes, per the contract signed in 2014. The rest of the allotment will be sold by FIU, Garcia said. No individual game tickets will be sold.
The field will be laid out in the same manner it was for the three bowl games. One end zone will sit in front of the fence along the third-base line. The other will be located just in front of the right field fence. The Marlins will also set up bleachers in left field to seat about 5,000.
For Davis — and plenty of Miami fans — the location of the game is nostalgia-inducing, even if the actual venue is nothing like it was when Davis coached the Hurricanes from 1995 to 2000. Marlins Park opened in 2012 at the site of the old Miami Orange Bowl, which hosted Hurricanes home games from 1937 to 2007 and was torn down in 2008.
“I think it’ll be kind of down memory lane a little bit,” Davis said. “Obviously, the facility is totally different, but people that used to come to games at the old Orange Bowl — the parking, the location, the tailgating and all that stuff, and I know that Pete’s already plotted out great places for tailgating to take place.”
Bowers said no discussions have yet taken place about bringing a bowl game back to the park, but FIU is excited about the potential of bringing more games to the venue.
The Marlins don’t have to wait until November to host games, either. Davis is always looking for opportunities to bolster the Panthers’ schedule, potentially with home-and-home agreements with other schools from Power 5 Conferences. If another major program agrees to come down to South Florida to play FIU, Davis hopes Marlins Park can serve as something of a second home for the Panthers.
“Pete and I have talked about, How can we get one great marquee game?” Davis said the news conference. “It’s not every year we’re going to be playing the University of Miami. How can we get one great game?
“This would be a phenomenal location to host that event.”