There will be an air of familiarity tonight in Oklahoma City when the championship round of the Women's College World Series begins, putting Alabama and Tim Walton's Florida Gators against each other in a best of three series to determine this year's NCAA champion. Alabama won the title two years ago, the first time a Southeastern Conference team has claimed college softball's top prize. This will be the Gators' third time to make it to the championship round and they're hoping the third time will be a charm.
Florida got to the championship round by running through its bracket, 3-0, outscoring opponents, 20-3. The Gators have gotten brilliant pitching from ace Hannah Rogers, who is 6-0 since the beginning of the NCAA Tournament with five shutouts and only 20 hits allowed in 35 innings. Walton has had teams with more power in the lineup and he's had teams with two legitimate aces he could throw, but he's never had a team that played defense like this one. In Florida's 65 games this year (53-12 record), the Gators have committed only 36 errors. They just aren't going to beat themselves.
To beat Alabama, the Gators are not only going to have to play great defense but they are going to have to figure out how to hit Jackie Traina, who pitched a pair of two-hitters when Alabama took two of three from the Gators in Gainesville back in March. Rogers was 1-1 in that series, pitching a five-hitter when the Gators beat Alabama in the second game, 7-1, and getting knocked out of the box in the second inning in the final game when Traina threw her second tw0-hitter.
This is a different Florida team than the one that lost to Alabama back in March. Back then, Walton was still trying to figure out his lineup and the Gators were still striking out too much while trying to hit too many home runs. The lineup issues have been solved and in NCAA Tournament play, the Gators have been doing all the little things it takes to win such as making contact, moving runners along, taking opposing pitchers deep into the count and hitting a lot of line drives. They'll need to do all that to beat Alabama and bring home the second NCAA championship for Florida (gymnastics got the other one) this year.
When the Southeastern Conference Spring Meetings concluded in Destin last week, commissioner Mike Slive issued what can only be considered a dire warning: either the power conferences get the changes they want or else they will form their own division. Without saying it, that was also a warning to everybody else that if the power conferences don't get their way, they could also break cleanly away from the NCAA.
What this amounts to is an end to college sports as we know them. Things are about to change and it's debatable that they had to. Oh, there needed to be changes in the rules and how they're applied, but all this could have been accomplished long ago had the NCAA simply done two things: (1) Take the Division II and Division III teams out of the voting equation for Division I football and (2) done away with this idea that it can balance the playing field so that everybody is equal.
Let's start with the voting issues. Why is it that non-football schools and schools that compete in lower divisions have a say in things like scholarship limitations, athletic dorms, training tables, etc.? Recently, the NCAA football rules committee proposed what is now called "The Saban Rule," which would have been a rule that forbid the ball to be snapped until 10 seconds had elapsed off the play clock. Saban was all for the rule as was Arkansas coach Bret Bielema, but they weren't the committee. Among those on the committee were Sherrey Applebaum (senior women's administrator, Michigan State); Noreen Morris (commissioner, Northeast Conference); Derita Ratcliffe (senior women's administrator, UAB); Lisa Sweany (athletic director, Armstrong Atlantic University); Kristy Bayer (senior women's administrator, Arkansas Tech); Doug Zipp (athletic director, Shenandoah University); Lynn Oberling (athletic director, Smith College); and Sue Lauder (athletic director, Fitchburg State).
How is it that the majority of a committee that makes the rules for Division I football includes women's sports administrators and athletic directors from non-football schools and schools that belong to Division IAA, Division II and Division III? That alone should tell you why the power conferences either need an autonomous branch or break away completely from the NCAA.
And then there is that wonderful notion that the playing field should be balanced for everyone to make it fair. That's how athletic dorms were done away with. The schools that couldn't afford them complained that it wasn't fair. Now we have this rule in place where you can have athletes in a dorm but at least half of the folks living in the dorm can't be athletes. We pay coaches millions and hold them accountable for what the players do away from the athletic venues yet don't give them the right to oversee athletes, set enforceable curfews, etc.?
Go back to 1973 for another wonderful rule that was put in place because the small schools that couldn't afford the monthly check for laundry/incidentals said the big schools that could afford it could no longer pay the stipend. A lot of people say "we can't pay players, a scholarship is enough" but until 1973 payers did get a stipend to cover the costs of things non-school related.
All these things could have been and should have been addressed long ago by the NCAA, which is now trying to change its image to that of a caring organization that is truly out for the betterment of college athletics. The reality is the NCAA has only been out for the betterment of the NCAA and because of that, college sports as we know them are about to change forever.
1. Cedric Ogbuehi, T, Texas A&M: If he stays healthy all year he's almost a lock to go in the first five picks of the NFL Draft next year.
2. Reese Dismukes, C, Auburn: He's started every game since he arrived at Auburn. Seriously high football IQ guy who gets everybody on the same page on the O-line.
3. Corey Robinson, T, South Carolina: This guy is an eclipse (6-8, 348) who just buries people in the run game and has a surprisingly quick slide step that allows him to be effective with edge rushers.
4. Laremy Tunsil, T, Ole Miss: He gave up only one sack last year as a true freshman. This year they say he's learned how to run block.
5. La'el Collins, T: LSU: He would have been drafted if he had departed early. He came back to work on his pass blocking. He's an extraordinary run blocker.
6. Ryan Kelly, C, Alabama: Kelly is the latest in a line of intelligent Bama centers who not only does his job but makes sure everyone else on the line is in the right place at the right time.
7. A.J. Cann, G, South Carolina: Big (6-4, 320) bruiser who just mauls the tackles across the line from him.
8. Austin Shepherd, T, Alabama: He will play right tackle but he's good enough to play the other four spots on the Alabama offensive line.
9. Alex Kozan, G, Auburn: He's a big mobile guy who gets to the second level, which is important in a spread option offense. He's only a sophomore but already an elite level lineman.
10. Evan Boehm, C, Missouri: He's a junior who has started every game in his two-year career. He's good enough to handle most nose tackles without help.
The Times of London came out with an expose of Qatar's bid to host the World Cup for 2022. The Times claims to have documented proof that Mohammed Bin Hamman of Qatar bribed the leaders of 30 high ranking African soccer officials for their support for Qatar's successful bid to host the world's largest and most popular sporting event. Bribes in third world countries are nothing new, but the projections that more than 4,000 will die working in the desert heat (today's high expected to be 113) to build the stadiums to host the World Cup are truly alarming. FIFA has put its chief investigator onto this and has indicated that the World Cup hosting could be awarded to someplace else if all the allegations the Times has made prove to be true.
The World Cup begins in a couple of weeks in Brazil. Will you watch (1) avidly; (2) only when the US plays or (3) not at all?
The pedal steel guitar is usually associated with country music, but not the way Robert Randolph plays it. Rolling Stone calls him one of the 100 best guitar players of all time. His combination of gospel, funk, blues and rock and roll has turned Robert Randolph and the Family Band into a headliner at places like the North Sea Jazz Festival, Montreux and Crossroads Guitar Festival. This is "Traveling Shoes" from their performance at the 2010 Crossroads event. This is gospel music like you've never heard it before. It's an amazing performance on the pedal steel by Randolph.