Kevin O'Sullivan and the Florida Gators are the #2 national seed for the NCAA Baseball Tournament, an amazing feat considering the Gators are one of the youngest teams in the country and because they're a team without a true superstar. You wouldn't want to call the Gators a bunch of nobodies because nobodies don't win the Southeastern Conference championship outright, but there aren't any household names and it's not a lineup stocked with first and second round draft picks like the Gators were a couple of years ago, the last time they made it out to Omaha for the College World Series.
So how is it that a team devoid of stars is hosting a regional this weekend (College of Charleston, North Carolina and Long Beach State will be traveling to Gainesville) and a super regional if they come through with a winning effort? They didn't do it by beating down the fences with their bats and while it's an exceptionally good pitching staff, the biggest winner on the team is Logan Shore, who is 7-3. The Gators win by getting runners on base, moving them into scoring position and then coming through with just enough hits at the right time to bring the runners home. Pitching is pretty much by committee. Behind Shore there are four pitchers with five wins, another with four and two more with three each. The bullpen is so deep that O'Sullivan isn't afraid to parade four or five pitchers out there in a nine-inning game the way he did up in Tuscaloosa nor is he afraid to let a pitcher out of the pen go for extended innings the way Bobby Poyner and Kirby Snead did in the SEC Tournament.
Miami will be playing in a regional for the 42nd straight year, the longest streak in NCAA history. As impressive as that is, no one will ever break Florida State's record for futility. The Seminoles, who are hosting a regional for the 31st time in history, have made it to the College World Series 21 times – only Texas (34), Miami (23) and Arizona State (22) have made it to Omaha more – but they've never bought home a championship. FSU head coach Mike Martin has won more than 1,800 games in his career and is a deserving member of the College Baseball Hall of Fame but he's 0-for-15 for the College World Series.
5. Dylan Thompson, South Carolina: Stevie Wonder says this is a quarterback he can win big with. He's thrown 14 touchdown passes as a backup and he'll be working behind maybe the best O-line in the SEC.
6. Hutson Mason, Georgia: Georgia fans are excited about Mason, who got starts in the last two games of the season when Aaron Murray went down with an ACL. He gets the edger over Jacob Coker (Alabama) simply because Coker has never started an SEC game.
7. Jacob Coker, Alabama: He nearly earned the starting job at FSU over Mr. Publix in the spring of 2013. He has thrown 21 completions in college games and people rave about his arm strength and athleticism.
8. Jeff Driskel, Florida: First order of business for Driskel – stay healthy. If he does, he could have a truly outstanding year.
9. Brandon Allen, Arkansas: He needs to throw the ball more often to the guys wearing the same color shirt he's wearing. He might also try getting the ball in the same vicinity as his receivers more often.
11. Stephen Rivers, Vanderbilt: He will be a redshirt junior but he graduated in three years from LSU and has two years of eligibility. He's got three years of watching film and some mop-up experience.
12. Kyle Allen, Texas A&M: He's a true freshman whose task is to fill the shoes of a legend. Good luck there. But, he's got talent and he's playing for Kevin Sumlin, whose history with quarterbacks is impressive.
13. Brandon Harris, LSU: He's a true freshman with enough talent to put Anthony Jennings, who got two starts after an injury to Zach Metzenberger, back on the bench. He's good, but he's never taken a snap in a college game.
The Southeastern Conference Spring Meetings begin today at the Sandestin Hilton where the focus will be on the issues that accompany autonomy for the five power conferences (SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 plus Notre Dame). The biggest of the issues will be the cost-of-attendance stipend. While there is no question that the power conferences will all agree on providing athletes with an amount of cash on a monthly basis that will help cover out-of-pocket expenses (current scholarships do not), just how much is enough? There was talk at one time of a $2,000 per athlete stipend but apparently that has grown to $3,800. Will the additional money be uniform throughout college sports or will it be adjusted to the cost of living in each locale. For example, $3,800 in Fayetteville, Arkansas provides much more buying power than $3,800 in Boston. Will the stipend cover all scholarship athletes or just those of revenue producing sports? And will whatever the conferences decide be enough to fight off the threat of unionization? The plan is to have a uniform proposal from all five power conferences before the NCAA in August. For the life of me, I can't see how they'll ever get two-thirds of the 65 schools to agree in this short period of time but I don't hear anyone saying "this is complicated; maybe we better slow down and take our time to come up with a reasonable solution to the problem."
Lawyers are already salivating over the cost-of-attendance stipend. A lawsuit has been filed in the Northern District of California by former West Virginia offensive lineman Nick Kindler, claiming that a uniform stipend presented by the power conferences amounts to a cartel engaging in price-fixing. I'm not a lawyer but I have to question why a former – not current – lineman from West Virginia is doing filing suit over cost-of-attendance for current players. His eligibility has expired, so what does it matter to him? And secondly, why is it that a West Virginia lineman is filing his suit in California? I don't have answers to these questions but maybe someone will enlighten me. Now I don't doubt that there might be grounds for price-fixing if the conferences agree on a uniform amount of money, but for the life of me I don't know why a former player is filing this suit and in California of all places.
The cost for the University of Florida, which has 265 scholarship athletes (141 for men and 124 for women), the cost would be $795,000 ... or the cost of a good offensive coordinator. That's a drop in the bucket at a school like Florida, which might receive something in the neighborhood of an additional $10-20 million next year due if the revenues from the SEC Network are anywhere close to the projections. The numbers could double at schools like Stanford, UCLA, Southern Cal and North Carolina which field far more athletic teams, but again, the cost really isn't that much when you add in the increased television revenues from conference networks and the first year of the football playoff. It is, however, a lot of money for a school like Savannah State, whose budget for the entire school (in the neighborhood of $45 million) is about a little more than a third of Florida's athletic budget. Savannah State probably has fewer than 120 scholarship athletes, but the requirement to pay an additional $360,000 is going to force the school to offer itself as a human sacrifice to a power conference school looking to score 80 points on homecoming.
Will paying players a stipend force some of the smaller schools to cut scholarships in other sports to make ends meet?
Autry DeWalt Mixon Jr. grew up playing saxophone in South Bend, Indiana for bands like The Jumping Jacks and the Rhythm Rockers. After a gig in the Army, the band relocated to Battle Creek, Michigan where they were discovered by talent scout Johnny Bristol, who changed their name to Junior Walker and the All-Stars. They became famous once Berry Gordy bought the Harvey record label and incorporated them into the Motown label where Walker combined his vocal talents with his soulful sax. This is "What Does It Take," which reached #4 on the Billboard singles chart in 1969 (#1 on the R&B) off the "Gotta Hold Onto This Feeling" album. I heard this song today while driving back from Orlando and marveled once again at what a great song that was.