Will this be a spring to remember for the University of Florida athletic department? It’s starting to look that way because there isn’t an athletic department in the country as poised for success as UF.
The Gators, who won the NCAA softball championship last year, head into the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City as the #1 overall seed and with the momentum of five consecutive shutouts, four pitched by Lauren Haeger, whose 28-1 record in the circle and 16 homers and 64 RBI at the plate make her the odds on favorite to win the national player of the Year.
Florida’s baseball team, composed mostly of freshmen and sophomores, just won the Southeastern Conference Tournament to earn the #4 seed nationally for the NCAA Tournament which begins this weekend. The #4 seed assures the Gators (44-16) of home field advantage prior to the College World Series in Omaha. The Gators are 28-6 this season in the friendly confines of McKethan Stadium. If they win their regional this weekend (Florida Atlantic, South Florida and Florida A&M are the other three teams), the Gators will host the winner of the Tallahassee Regional (most likely Florida State) for an NCAA Super Regional. The Gator already own a 14-8 win over the Seminoles at McKethan Stadium.
And then there is men’s track and field. Mike Holloway’s team blew the field away on the final day of the SEC Championships, scoring 127.5 of their 130.5 points to win the championship by a full 35 points. The Gators are currently ranked #1 in the US Track and Field Coaches Association poll and with Marquis Dendy -- as good as there is in the world in both the long jump and triple jump – leading the way, there is every good chance Holloway will bring home his sixth national championship (three indoors, two outdoors) in his magnificent career heading the UF track and field program.
Florida has already clinched the Southeastern Conference All-Sports Trophy even with lackluster seasons from the usually dependable football and men’s basketball teams. The lack of points from those two sports will keep the Gators from winning the Learfield Director’s Cup (Stanford will win it again) but if the Gators were to bring home three national championships they would almost certainly finish second, a notable accomplishment for a program that can’t count on water polo and fencing points to pad their standings.
When he came to the SEC from Conference USA, everybody asked “Mike who?” and wondered how this former judge from New Hampshire could ever replace the legendary Roy Kramer, inventor of college football’s beast from hell – the BCS. Nobody asks “Mike who?” anymore because in his 13 years on the job Mike Slive quietly became the single most powerful man in all of college athletics.
When he handed Kevin O’Sullivan and the Florida Gators the championship trophy for the SEC baseball tournament Sunday night, it marked the last time Slive will preside over a championship celebration in the SEC. This week he will do his last SEC Spring Meetings in Destin and then he will ride off into the sunset, leaving office on July 31, turning over the SEC Commissioner job to Greg Sankey.
To say that Sankey has big shoes to fill would be the understatement of the century. Sankey might be the first one to tell you the most important item on his agenda as commissioner is don’t screw up what Mike Slive so carefully crafted.With Slive in charge, the SEC truly became the most dominant conference in all of college athletics. SEC schools came home with the national title 91 times during Slive’s time on the job.
Here are the national championships claimed by SEC schools during Slive’s tenure – and it must be noted the SEC could come away with more national championship hardware in the next month:
Football (8): Alabama (3); Florida (2); LSU (2); Auburn (1)
Men’s Basketball (3): Florida (2); Kentucky (1)
Women’s Basketball (2): Tennessee (2)
Baseball (4): South Carolina (2); LSU (1); Vanderbilt (1)
Women’s Bowling (1): Vanderbilt
Women’s Gymnastics (11): Georgia (5); Alabama (3); Florida (3)
Rifle (1): Kentucky (1)
Softball (2): Alabama (1); Florida (1)
Men’s Golf (3): Alabama (2); Georgia (1)
Women’s Golf (1): Alabama (1)
Men’s Swimming (6): Auburn (6)
Women’s Swimming (9): Auburn (5); Georgia (3); Florida (1)
Men’s Tennis (2): Georgia (2)
Women’s Tennis (4): Florida (3); Vanderbilt (1)
Men’s Indoor Track and Field (9): Arkansas (4); Florida (3); LSU (1); Tennessee (1)
Women’s Indoor Track and Field (5): LSU (3); Tennessee (2)
Men’s Outdoor Track and Field (4): * Florida (2); * Texas A&M (1); LSU (1); Arkansas (1)
Florida and Texas A&M tied for the 2013 NCAA championship
Women’s Outdoor Track and Field (4): LSU (2); South Carolina (1); Auburn (1)
Women’s Equestrian (12): Georgia (6); South Carolina (3); Auburn (3)
It was Slive who first proposed a playoff to the NCAA back in 2008. Although it was shot down, that proposal can be viewed as the beginning of the end of the BCS. Back in January, college football held its first playoff with four teams participating. The spike in revenues was dramatic. Here are the Power Five Conferences’ BCS revenues in 2014 and their 2015 college football playoff revenues:
Big Ten: $34,197,751 in the BCS; $63,978,927 in the CFP SEC: $34,197,751 in the BCS; $65,598,710 in the CFP Big 12: $34,197,751 in the BCS; $64,700,801 in the CFP Pac-12: $27,897,751 in the BCS; $69,328,611 in the CFP ACC: $34,197,751 in the BCS; $58,260,649 in the CFP
Slive turned the SEC into the cash king of college athletics. Back in 1998, SEC schools were earning about $2 million a year from bowl games and television revenues. Slive signed the long term deals with CBS and ESPN that enabled the league to distribute $20-plus million a year per school and when the league expanded from 12 to 14 schools, the cash flow didn’t miss a beat as it has with other leagues.
The final legacy for Slive will be the SEC Network, which in less than one year is already the fastest growing sports cable network in history and the fifth largest in the US. It should be noted that the SEC Network (already $547.3 million and still growing) makes more than the Big Ten and Pac-12 networks combined.
1. ESPN $6.61 x 94.5 million homes = $7.5 billion
2. NFL Network $1.31 x 73.6 million homes = $1.16 billion
3. FS1 .99 x 91.2 million homes = $1.08 billion
4. ESPN2 .83 x 94.5 million homes = $941.2 million
5. SEC Network .66 x 69.1 million homes = $547.3 million
6. Golf Channel .35 x 79.4 million homes = $332.2 million
7. NBC Sports Network .30 x 83.1 million homes = $299 million
8. Big Ten Network .39 x 62 million homes = $290.2 million
9. MLB Network .26 x 71.3 million homes = $222.5 million
10. FS2 .28 x 64 million homes = $215 million
11. NBA TV .29 x 57.2 million homes = $199 million
12. ESPNU .22 x 74.9 million homes = $198 million
13. CBS Sports Network .26 x 61 million homes = $190.3 million
14. NHL Network .32 x 37.4 million homes = $143.6 million
15. Pac 12 Network .39 x 12.3 million homes = $57.6 million
By 2017, the SEC is expected to distribute something like $35.6 million per school. Comparatively speaking, the Big Ten is expected to distribute something like $33 million while the Pac-12 will distribute in the neighborhood of $23 million.
So, how do SEC schools thank Mike Slive? Let them count the millions of ways.
Two part question: With so many freshmen and sophomores in prominent roles, are you (1) surprised the Gators earned the #4 seed in the NCAA baseball tournament and (2) do you think they have what it takes to bring home a national championship?
I was working at The Record Bar of Gainesville on University Avenue on a Saturday morning in the spring of 1969 when the truck pulled up with a stack of new records. Al Hospers grabbed the Crosby, Stills and Nash album and put it on the stereo system with the tall column speakers in the back of the store. From the first chords of “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” I was hooked. “Crosby, Stills and Nash” is still one of my favorite albums. The harmony was and still is unbelievably good.