Franz Beard's Thoughts of the Day; Jan. 21

A few thoughts to jump start your Wednesday morning...

A long overdue early signing period could become a reality in the spring if the conference commissioners approve a recommendation to implement a 72-hour signing window in December. The proposal that will go before the Conference Commissioners Association for approval will be given a two-year trial and is likely to work in conjunction with the mid-December junior college signing day.

The arguments for an early signing period are well documented and anyone who wants living proof that it works need only to look at the sanity the November signing period brings to basketball. The kids who sign in December have the advantage of playing their senior seasons without the hassles of recruiters calling them night and day. Ask coaches and they’ll tell you early signing is a Godsend for kids who might be on shaky academic ground because once they are signed, sealed and delivered, they can concentrate on hoops and books the rest of the school year.

In football, it makes sense that a kid who has committed to a school can go ahead and sign rather than endure all the phone calls and attempts to flip him in January. He should be able to make his decision in December and get it over with.

An early signing period will certainly take some of the drama out of the February National Signing Day, but that might not be a bad thing either. We could probably do with fewer of those made for TV three-hat ceremonies.

Coaches like Urban Meyer, Les Miles and Steve Spurrier lobbied for an early signing period years ago only to have the idea shot down by coaches who wanted the option to work a kid until the last minute before National Signing Day. There was unanimity among SEC coaches for an early signing day last spring, however, although some coaches thought the early period should take place in the summer so that a kid could have the benefit of an entire senior season without recruiting hassles.

Early signing for football along with the implementation of four-year scholarships is a change in the right direction for the college game. There will be further changes to the recruiting rules now that the 65 power schools have the autonomy to toss out the archaic guidelines in the NCAA’s way too fat rule book but that shouldn’t be expected overnight. Rather, it should be a gradual process as the game continues to change, sometimes for the better. Early signing is definitely a change for the better.

THE WHEELS COME OFF FOR THE SECOND STRAIGHT GAME

What happened Tuesday night at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center might be a sign of things to come for Billy Donovan and the Florida basketball team. A second straight blowout loss, this one at home to LSU by a 79-61 margin, only highlights the fatal flaws in this team that now stands 10-8 and looks like one that will stay home when March Madness begins.

This is a team that has a small margin for error. That’s actually no different than last year’s Florida team that won 30 games in a row and made it to the Final Four. Those guys had a very small margin for error also but they had things this team doesn’t have – cohesiveness, a sense of purpose and leadership. When the Gators practiced, they had the sterling examples of Patric Young, Casey Prather, Will Yeguete and Scottie Wilbekin to guide them. With those guys, there was no such thing as a day off. Practice was a work day and you came to work ready to get better. Game days were times to focus in on all the little things that had to be done to ensure they could win in spite of their small margin for error.

This Florida team lacks the leadership and that burning will to win that was the signature personality of last year’s SEC championship bunch. Beyond Michael Frazier and Eli Carter, there isn’t a whole lot of offense. If they aren’t hitting shots or can’t get shots off, the Gators are in serious trouble. Dorian Finney-Smith is the only serious rebounder and he can score if Frazier and Carter can hit some shots that open up the middle. When Frazier and Carter aren’t scoring, Finney-Smith’s opportunities to put the ball in the basket are limited. There isn’t nearly enough size and no one has the physical strength or toughness to handle things in the middle the way Patric or Yeguete did. Jon Horford has the same limited skill set that kept him on the bench at Michigan and Chris Walker is a lost ball in the tall weeds at either end of the floor. He’s as athletic as anyone the Gators have ever had in the post but he has zero in the way of offensive skills or court sense. At the point Kasey Hill has extraordinary quickness and the ability to penetrate and pass the basketball, but he doesn’t command the respect the way Wilbekin did. When Wilbekin was on the floor it was his team and he was in charge, a virtual extension of Donovan. Hill is way too passive and far too influenced by the ebbs and flows of a game.

In spite of all those flaws, however, the Gators can win games if they play defense the way Donovan wants them to. UF went 10-6 in the first 16 games and could have easily come away with a 14-2 record because the Gators played in your face defense. No team shot better than 50% in those first 16 games. In the last two, both Georgia and LSU have shot better than 50% from both the floor and the 3-point line. When the Gators can’t get stops, they can’t win.

Without a doubt, this is Donovan’s biggest challenge since his first year on the job way back in 1995. He didn’t have the talent back then and it took awhile to get everyone on the same page on either end of the court. The result was a losing record and no postseason play. The Gators bought in the next year and though they didn’t have much talent, they still made the NIT because they played with real fire.

Unless this team stokes the inner boilers and gets the fires going particularly on the defensive end, the NIT is going to be a pipe dream. If the Gators keep giving up 70 or more points and 50% shooting, the end of the season is going to seem like it is light years away.

NOW THAT JOE PA HAS HIS WINS BACK, BOBBY WANTS HIS, TOO

Now that the NCAA is recommending that the 111 wins it stripped from Joe Paterno be restored, Bobby Bowden is asking what about the 12 wins the NCAA took from him? Bobby never believed the NCAA had the right to strip Joe Pa of his wins. He also that that it wasn’t fair that he lost those 12 games because of an academic scandal that stretched all the way across the Florida State athletic department and included athletes from nearly every sport.

Paterno’s wins were stripped in response to what the NCAA deemed a culture of football that dominated Penn State in such a way that former Paterno assistant Jerry Sandusky became a serial rapist and child abuser for more than a decade. Did Paterno know? He says he didn’t. Others say he did. He’s dead now. Sandusky is in prison. We have testimony of kids whose lives were permanently altered, a former Penn State assistant who has been vilified for telling what he saw in a shower in the Penn State football facility, and a few other testimonies that don’t offer a concrete answer about Paterno’s knowledge of what was going on.

The one thing the Penn State Board of Trustees knew beyond a shadow of doubt was that the Sandusky scandal happened on Joe Pa’s watch. Because of that, he should have lost his job. The trustees didn’t overreact. They acted in the best interests of the university. No matter what Paterno knew, it couldn’t have happened on Penn State property if Paterno hadn’t given Sandusky free and open access to all the facility.

But should the wins have been taken? The kids who played those games didn’t have anything to do with the scandal and none of them were academically ineligible. Restoring the wins doesn’t say Paterno acted properly when it comes to Sandusky just that the kids who won the games on the field shouldn’t be punished because of something they had no control over.

The Bowden situation is different. Bowden says he didn’t know anything at all about the academic scandal that FSU self-reported and given the state of his memory the last few years he was on the job – the Pouncey twins committed to Florida because Bobby couldn’t remember their names or where they were from on a summertime unofficial … true story – he probably had no clue what was going on. That he may not have known doesn’t change the fact that Florida State played 12 games with players who were ineligible under school and NCAA rules because they took a bogus class. FSU’s track team was stripped of a national championship for the same reasons.

You can’t blame Bobby for wanting his wins back but FSU played and won football games with players who were ineligible. Those games Penn State had taken away were played with eligible players who actually went to real classes. Comparing the restoration of wins at Penn State and Florida State is apples and oranges and Bowden should not have those wins restored.

PETE ROSE SAID IT

Rose, whose on the field career should have made him first ballot into baseball’s Hall of Fame, has taken up the cause of players whose use of performance enhancing drugs who won’t see Cooperstown except when they take their families to visit. Said Rose, who has a lifetime ban because he bet on baseball:

“Would I vote for Roger Clemens? You’re damn right I would. Would I vote for Barry Bonds? You’re damn right I would. These guys are seven-time MVPs, seven-time Cy Young Aware winners.”

QUESTION OF THE DAY

Should the use of PEDs keep players like Pete Rose, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire out of the Hall of Fame?

MUSIC FOR TODAY

Courtesy of old friend Doug Wedgworth, a great Gator from Palm Beach County whose music collection is trumped only by the music museum curator in heaven, I’ve been introduced to the AJ Ghent Band, which has spent much of the last year or so touring as the opening act for Zac Brown. AJ plays the lap steel guitar and has a vocal style highly reminiscent of the late Otis Redding. Their musical style is self-described as “Southern Soul.” Their debut album will be out in a couple of months and it should be outstanding. Today’s music is the AJ Ghent Band cover of the Sam Cooke classic “It’s Been a Long Time Coming.”


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