The only thing that separates the Florida Gators from the first NCAA baseball championship in school history is five wins. If the Gators (49-16) win five games starting Saturday with an encounter with in-state rival Miami, they will come home with the championship that has eluded them eight previous trips to Omaha for the College World Series.
The first task in Florida’s quest to make history is surviving day one. This is double elimination so the teams that win on the first day have a huge advantage while the first day losers are faced with winning four consecutive high pressure elimination games to take the bracket. Of the four teams in their bracket – Miami, Arkansas and Virginia are the other three – the Gators own wins over both Miami (two of three back in March) and Arkansas (at the SEC Tournament three weeks ago) so that should help to neutralize any CWS jitters.
Should the Gators beat Miami on day one and then come back with a win against the Arkansas-Virginia winner in game two, they would need only one win in two games to advance to the championship series where it is best two of three. Over on the other side of the bracket, expectations are that either LSU or Vanderbilt will emerge as the winner. The Gators beat LSU in the SEC Tournament semifinals and are 3-1 this season against Vanderbilt including a win in the championship game.
Familiarity is a good thing, but so is having a team tailor-made for T.D. Ameritrade Park in Omaha, a spacious ball yard that favors teams with great pitching, speed and defense. The teams that win in Omaha don’t do it by cranking the ball out of the yard but do it instead with exceptional pitching and sound defense. Gators have the deepest pitching staff of the remaining eight teams and they are on track to go down as the best defensive team in the history of college baseball. The Gators have committed only 37 errors in 65 games for a .985 fielding percentage so they aren’t going to beat themselves.
This is the fourth team Kevin O’Sullivan has taken to Omaha in his eight years on the job at UF. This one might have the best combination of hitting, pitching and fielding. Combine that with familiarity and the Gators have a real shot to bring home a championship.
To paraphrase the late, great Lewis Grizzard, Dusty Rhodes is dead and I don’t feel so good myself.”
Few people have ever entertained me more than Virgil Runnels, the former West Texas State blocking back/linebacker (was the starting fullback when Mercury Morris was the tailback) and baseball player who we all knew as Dusty Rhodes, The American Dream. I remember a flight change in Atlanta back in the 1980s. Robert Redford walked by and a few people noticed and ran up to him.
About a minute later Dusty Rhodes walked down the same corridor and he was mobbed. Actors were a dime a dozen. There was only one American Dream.
Until Vince McMahon and WWE came along to squeeze out the competition, wrestling was fun. We had Gordon Solie on the call, describing in detail every spinning toe hold, atomic elbow drop, sleeper hold, flying drop kick, supplex, heart punch, tomahawk chop and figure four leg lock. Who cared if it was all scripted? Who cared if the same guys who were mortal enemies in the ring and interviews rode to the arena together and were best buddies?
It was all fun and nobody was more fun than Dusty Rhodes.
I think he got his inspiration from Wayne Cochran, the peroxide blonde, blue-eyed soul singer from Macon, Georgia who was better known for his dancing and outrageous outfits than he was for his singing although he gained a bit of notoriety with songs like “The Last Kiss” and “Going Back to Miami.” Wayne Cochran had charisma and it is charisma that turned Dusty Rhodes into The American Dream.
It was when Dusty figured out how to turn the liability of his lisp into an asset that he became a superstar who went on to beat Harley Race twice and Ric Flair once for the world championship.
Here is Dusty Rhodes in 1980, interviewed by the one and only Gordon Solie:
The Southern Association and Colleges and Schools has placed the University of North Carolina on 12 months of probation because it failed to meet seven accreditation standards including academic integrity and control of its athletic programs. Short of disaccrediting the university for allowing an academic scandal that involved more than 3,100 students – many of them athletes – for approximately 18 years, the Southern Association handed out its next harshest penalty, extremely rare for a major research university.
The move by the Southern Association actually pressures the NCAA to take severe measures against UNC. The NCAA will look more foolish than it already does if it doesn’t hit Carolina hard for sham courses that athletes used for easy grades to stay eligible and now meaningless college degrees in African-American Studies. Ever since Carolina announced the results of a 58-page Notice of Allegations from the NCAA last week, there has been speculation that UNC would get off with very light penalties that would amount to nothing more than a slap on the wrist.
That likely changed with the 12 months probation from the Southern Association.
UNC football has probably served its probation, a three-year sentence that included a loss of a bowl trip and scholarship sanctions. That hardly caused a ripple in Chapel Hill since football rarely wins championships of any kind. Basketball is a different story. It’s the signature sport of a university that was thought to do everything the right way until the academic scandal broke. Now that the basketball program has been exposed, the question is what to do about those NCAA championships in 2005 and 2009? Those teams – especially 2005 – were filled with players who loaded up on the sham courses. Of the 15 players on the 2005 team, 10 majored in African-American studies.
It is a dilemma for the NCAA, which took serious criticism for its milquetoast handling of NCAA probations against Florida State and Miami and then overstepped its authority with fines and sanctions, many of which it had to roll back against Penn State. If the NCAA gives a slap on the wrist like it did with FSU and Miami, then it’s definitely the wrong signal. If it goes overboard like it did against Penn State, it risks even more court cases than the ones already on a full plate.
Ronald Reagan once said, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” Those words come to mind today when the NCAA Accountability Act is being re-introduced into the House of Representatives. There is no question there should be checks and balances to reel in the NCAA and force accountability while at the same time addressing issues such as athletes rights and medical issues such as concussions. The current system isn’t working properly to deal with those issues, but would our congress do a better job? Given their single digit approval ratings, inability to work together and penchant for legislation that, at best, creates more bumbling bureaucracy, I think the last thing we need is for our congress to get involved in intercollegiate athletics.
We have problems, that’s for sure, but there are better ways to deal and eliminate them than turning it over to the government. Probably the best thing that could happen to intercollegiate athletics would be for the power schools to secede from the NCAA and rewrite their own set of rules, which, in turn, would force the other schools in Division I as well as Divisions II and III to adapt if they wanted to hold on to the cash that trickles down from the college football playoff and NCAA Basketball Tournament.
I’m all for reform but I certainly don’t trust our government to do anything except screw things up even worse than they area already.
Do you see a need for the government to get involved in collegiate athletics or do you think the problems can be solved by school presidents and athletic directors?
Bocagator was blown away by St. Paul and the Broken Bones when they opened up for the Rolling Stones earlier in the week. This seven-piece soul band is a throwback to the days of Al Green and Otis Redding. Vocalist Paul Janeway can flat out sing. Here is their “Half the City” album, just for you Boca!