On the night before I fly to Dominican Republic for business in Santiago and Puerto Plata, here are three things to think about:
1. It’s better to enter the SEC arms race late than never: The facilities problem is very real. It’s not an exaggeration to say the University of Florida is indeed on the low end of the SEC pack when it comes to facilities, particularly for football. At best, you could call Florida’s overall facilities average. For football, they’re well below average for what a program of this high profile should be. In a league as competitive as the SEC, it’s not a good thing to try to play catch up when the folks who already have better facilities are spending money to upgrade.
It says something when Dan Mullen is asked about the Florida job by ESPN’s Ivan Maisel and Mullen replies, “I’ve got better facilities here.” It says something when Hugh Freeze could have had the Florida job (that is a fact; Jason Higdon indeed had it right) but elected to stay put because he felt Ole Miss (a) already has better facilities and (b) has a stronger commitment to not just staying even in the arms race, but getting ahead.
The University of Florida should have never been in this position in the first place. For years, it was easy to deflect calls for upgrades because the Gators were winning championships. How many times did we hear the argument, “Why do we need an indoor practice facility with the weather we have? How many days do we lose for practice because of weather?” The indoor practice facility was and is only part of the equation. While other schools in the league are investing in housing and dining facilities second to none, UF lags far behind.
And while it is admirable that all the Title IX sports get first class treatment, the fact is those sports would be riding in the back of the bus if Florida football were not the cash cow that it has been throughout the years. So, it is imperative that football gets whatever it needs to succeed and that means joining the arms race. Failure to do so will mire the Gators in a hole of mediocrity so deep they may never dig their way out and if football gets the sniffles, the other sports on campus are in danger of catching pneumonia.
There is some merit to the notion that the UAA and athletic director Jeremy Foley were hamstrung the past 10 years by former UF president Bernie Machen but that is only a piece of the puzzle. Machen was quick to bask in the glow of championships, but there was never a sense of urgency on his part to allow upgrading facilities. It’s great that Machen’s priority was to turn the University of Florida into an elite academic institution worthy of mention as a “Public Ivy,” but even that boomeranged because the best that Florida has to offer in the high school classrooms are going elsewhere because they’re being denied admission to UF. While it’s great to have a great chemistry department with terrific professors, how many people will pay to watch a great lab experiment on a Saturday afternoon in September? Yet, 90,000 people will expose themselves to the elements and risk heat stroke to watch the Gators play football. Do not think for a second that the exposure football gives the university doesn’t help whoever is in charge to turn the school into one of the best in the country.
The other part of the puzzle is the great space debate. If you wish to keep facilities centralized, then Florida football is going to get the bad end of the stick because there are severe space limitations. But why is it necessary to keep it all in that small, compact space where there is no room for growth, where parking is abysmal and traffic flow before and after games is an absolute nightmare? Why not move some sports out to the west end of campus where there is room for expansion and give football the space it needs? This long needed indoor practice facility is nice to have but look at the price that’s being paid – one of the grass practice fields is being eliminated so that UF will now have one full practice field and a 70-yard artificial turf field.
The Gators are late comers to the arms race in the SEC and they’ve got a ton of ground to make up but at least they’re finally addressing the problems. Because of location and weather, Florida doesn’t have to do better than everyone else, but the Gators do have to stay within arm’s length.
A late start is better than no start at all.
2. Deflate-Gate is much ado about nothing: You would think Bill Belichick and Tom Brady bribed one of the zebras to throw a flag at some critical point of the AFC Championship Game that would have altered the outcome the way the media has jumped all over this story. The way the New England Patriots dominated the Indianapolis Colts, they could have played the game with those fat, clumsy rugby balls and the outcome meter would have hardly moved.
Belichick says he didn’t have anything to do with it. The media read that to be an indictment of Tom Brady. But what if Brady deflated footballs? Big deal. I watched the game. Deflated footballs had nothing at all to do with the Colts’ inability to cover the Patriots wide receivers or tackle any Patriot carrying the football. The Patriots were running so wide open in the secondary that Brady didn’t have to deliver pinpoint passes but for the sake of argument, let’s say fully inflated footballs might have prevented one of those New England touchdowns. So instead of a 41-7 win it would have only been 34-7.
The media steadfastly argues that the Patriots cheated but if we want to go that route, how many of the Colts were amped on some performance enhancing drug that is one step ahead of detection by the NFL’s drug police? There are a dozen questions we could ask about PEDs, whose use is thought to be more widespread today than ever before. Now if you want to define cheating, that’s probably a better definition than using slightly deflated footballs.
Everbody in the game is looking for an edge so don’t think the idea to deflate footballs is someone’s original brainstorm. It isn’t.
It’s only a story because the media wants to make Belichick and Brady seem like the most dastardly duo since Dick Hickock and Perry Smith. And far be it that Roger Goodell and the NFL would take measures to make the story die. Goodell loves it. All the time the media spends making much ado about nothing into a story raises the interest bar for next Sunday’s Super Bowl.
Expect this. Goodell will tell the media that the NFL won’t rest until it gets to the bottom of deflate-gate. It might even fine the Patriots and Brady if there is even the slightest shred of evidence that they were involved or have knowledge of whoever was behind letting some air out of 11 footballs. And maybe the Patriots are docked a second or third round draft pick. As if that’s a big deal the way Belichick hoards lower round picks and uses free agents.
Meanwhile, Goodell has a story line building of good Seattle standing up for the virtue of the NFL against the evil Bill Belichick and his equally evil sidekick Tom Brady. It’s good for ratings and in Goodell-think that’s all that matters.
3. 1,000 wins for Coach K: Chances are you’re not a Duke fan and if you watch college basketball, you probably have grown weary of listening to Dickie V gush over Mike Kryzyzewski as if he’s college basketball’s version of St. Francis of Assisi. Whether you like Coach K, Duke or Dickie V’s constant hyperbole, you have to admit that 1,000 wins is quite the accomplishment. Number 1,000 came Sunday when the Blue Devils knocked off St. John’s in a non-conference game in Madison Square Garden, perhaps the perfect stage for college basketball’s first 1,000-game winner.
When Coach K was hired at Duke, it was considered risky coming off a 9-17 season at Army. The memory of Duke glory days in the 1950s and 1960s when Vic Bubas was the coach still lingered and the Blue Devil faithful couldn’t understand why athletic director Tom Butters would choose this unknown when so many better known coaches could have been hired. When Coach K’s second and third teams at Duke went combined 21-34, there were calls to fire both Butters and Coach K, but patience has certainly paid off in a big way. Since that 38-47 start the first three years, Coach K is 889-202 with four national championships, nine trips to the Final Four and 13 ACC championships.
You may not like him and want to rip that pouty look right off his face when a call doesn’t go his way, but give Coach K his due. You don’t win that many basketball games if you’re not as good as it gets.
Are you concerned that the Gators are just now joining the arms race in the SEC when so many rivals with better facilities are upgrading?
During the 1970s, TV shows such as “Soul Train” helped introduce the country to the rhythm and blues music originating out of Philadelphia. Groups such as The O’Jays, The Intruders, The Stylistics and the Delfonics all hit the air waves with terrific music. Because of lead singer Teddy Pendergrass, I became a big fan of Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. Today’s music is the Blue Notes best song, “The Love I Lost.”
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