A few thoughts to jump start your Wednesday morning...
ANOTHER YEAR, ANOTHER STRONG FINISH
When the track and field results are added into the Learfield Director's Cup standings on Friday, the University of Florida
will be ranked second to perennial winner Stanford with only baseball to be added into the totals. Florida's women have already clinched the Capital One Cup and they will pad their margin over second place UCLA and third place Stanford with another 24 points when their fourth place finish at the NCAA Track and Field championships are added in. Thanks to their second place finish at the NCAA track meet, the Gators will pick up 36 points to move past Florida State into second place in the men's division of the Capital One Cup. If Virginia wins the NCAA baseball championship, the Cavaliers will pick up 60 points to beat Notre Dame and push the Gators back to third.
It has been another outstanding year for the Florida athletic program even without the usual contributions from football to the Directors and Capital One standings. Florida took home two national championships – softball and women's gymnastics – and won SEC titles in soccer, men's swimming, men's basketball, women's indoor track and field, and baseball, plus won the American Lacrosse Conference championship in women's lacrosse. Only the men's golf team didn't participate in NCAA sanctioned postseason championships.
Florida also won the SEC All-Sports Trophy.
Kudos to Jeremy Foley, whose commitment to building championship programs in every sport is unmatched in the Southeastern Conference. Foley continues to set the standard for excellence in the SEC and ranks among the two or three best athletic directors in the country, not just for bringing home championships but keeping the athletic department in the black while doing it the right way.
AS IMPERFECT AS THE SYSTEM IS
For the last two weeks the NCAA and its collegiate sports model has been under full assault in Oakland, California where a lawsuit brought by former UCLA basketball star Ed O'Bannon and a few other plaintiffs is being heard by Judge Claudia Wilken in a Federal courtroom. Lost in the rush to judgment against an NCAA that definitely has a unique set of problems that will cause it to either adapt or lose its financial base completely is the fact that the college sports does offer an opportunity and often a way out for an astounding number of athletes, both male and female. Only a very small percentage of those who suit up for their school will ever play professionally but for everyone else who won't have the chance to bring home million dollar paychecks playing a game for a living, there is a chance to use a college education to forge ahead in life.
Count me as a harsh critic of the NCAA, not because it doesn't pay players a salary but because the organization has spent the last 40 years basking in the glow of its own self-importance while allowing the bloat of its own bureaucracy to grow to unsupportable proportions. As the popularity of the sports that fall under its umbrella continues to grow, the NCAA has allowed the schools and coaches to cash in without reforming its rules and regulations to make it more athlete-friendly. I don't think athletes should get a salary but I do think they need to get money to cover the daily costs that go beyond room, board, tuition, books and fees. I think recruiting and other rules should be streamlined. I think if you're going to have rules then make them fair and enforce them the same way for everybody. I believe that there are common sense solutions to most problems but rather than apply common sense, the NCAA cranks up the bureaucracy for a brand new study and then piles more rules onto the old rules. I think that athletes should be taken care of long after their eligibility is complete if they are injured and I believe that schools have an obligation to make sure their athletes graduate with a meaningful degree that can help them get a job in the real world.
If the NCAA doesn't get a grip on reality and bring on wholesale reform to address those and other issues, then I think it will cease to exist as we know it. My fear is that if the NCAA completely disintegrates and college sports as we know them now cease to exist that so many good kids will lose their best chance to change their circumstances for the better. As imperfect as the system is, it still provides educational opportunities, often for kids who couldn't otherwise get in school.
I remember how Steve Spurrier lobbied long and hard, all the way up to University of Florida president John Lombardi for Ben Hanks. Without Spurrier's pleas and Lombardi's willingness to take a chance on a kid whose transcripts said he couldn't make it, Ben Hanks might have been another Liberty City tragedy instead of an ongoing success story that includes helping numerous kids from at risk backgrounds to make it out of that high crime, high unemployment area of Miami. Spurrier believed so much in Hanks that he un-retired his #11 jersey so Hanks could wear it while accumulating 320 career tackles for the Gators.
Hanks is just one success story but there are hundreds, even thousands more just like him every single year. What's sad is that the NCAA has allowed itself to be painted into a corner where the good that has been accomplished by providing opportunity for a college education has been overshadowed by its own stubborn refusal to address concerns that have been there all along.
THE POWER CONFERENCES OFFER A MODEL OF REFORM
Let's not fool ourselves, the so-called Power Five – the 64 schools of the five power conferences and Notre Dame – wouldn't be threatening to form their own organization with its own set of rules if not for the money potential. They are the rich guys of college sports and they're going to get richer whether they form their own division within the NCAA or break away completely. It is a money grab but there is also an offer for reform. In the days and weeks to come, anti-trust lawyers like Jeffrey Kessler are going to portray the Power Five as a bunch of greedy bastards but they do have a plan to change the way they do business.
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney, one of the most powerful men in all of collegiate athletics and a guy that I used to write about when he played basketball for Dean Smith at North Carolina, provided some insight at the Collegiate Commissioners Association Tuesday when he told Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com, "The [collegiate model] is unique. It's very unique. It doesn't exist in Asia or Africa. It's been around for 100 years. It binds communities together. It provides opportunities. It's imperfect as most American institutions are. Sometimes it's done really, really well. Sometimes it's done not so well. We've been a little bit stuck to be honest with you in making some of the evolutionary changes. [But] we're going to do that no matter what happens in these courts."
Added SEC commissioner Mike Slive, "The student-athlete comes first. Maybe that hasn't been the philosophy over the last 20-30 years ... It's a paradigm shift in how institutions think about what we do."
At the heart of the Power Five reform package are these basic reforms: (1) Money for athletes that covers the costs that go beyond the scholarship; (2) simplifying the rules and coming up with a fair way to enforce them; (3) insurance that covers athletes for lingering effects of injuries suffered while playing their sport; (4) educational reforms that will allow athletes to better juggle the responsibilities of their sport with the rigors of earning a degree; and (5) an opportunity for athletes to have a voice in decisions that involve them.
When these reforms are implemented, there will still be flaws in the system, but at least the system will be fairer to the athletes it's supposed to be helping.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
As long as they aren't playing the Gators, is there another college team that you cheer for?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
The Nth Power is a New Orleans soul band known for terrific live performances that fuse in a nice mixture of jazz and funk. They released their first EP called "Basic Minimum Skills Test" last spring and have spent a good portion of the last year touring the country. They'll be playing the Bear Creek Music Festival at the Suwannee Music Park November 15-16. This is "Only Love" which features some terrific keyboards from Nigel Hall (also plays with the Warren Haynes Band) and very cool vocals from Nick Cassarino (plays with the Jennifer Hartswick Band, also with Big Daddy Kane). This is new talent that has a chance to become a big player on the soul/rhythm and blues scene moving forward.