In recent years, Florida State has made excellent strides in upgrading its program top-to-bottom as evidenced by their respectable 30th place finish this year. FSU teams in men's tennis; women's basketball, soccer and track have improved markedly. While Florida still is clearly ahead, the gap has narrowed and with the improving facilities in Tallahassee, maintaining that advantage cannot be assumed.
Down south, Miami has always had some good teams in other sports. Women's basketball had a good run, the tennis teams are normally excellent and the Hurricanes always seem to have great divers for some reason. But the facilities and caliber of coaches does not compare with Florida or FSU and thus Miami is just barely in the top 50 (# 49).
It's About Commitment, Not Compliance
When Title IX was passed, ending decades of disgraceful treatment for female student-athletes schools were faced with a crucial decision. Will we do just what was needed to appear compliant with the directive from the Federal Government? Or will we commit serious resources to those programs with a determination to be competitive for championships. To its credit, the University of Florida chose the latter.
Florida was already very good in a number of women's sports, like golf, tennis, swimming and gymnastics. But once the SEC and NCAA began sanctioning championships in the 1981-82 school year, UF began upgrading facilities, offering the maximum number of scholarships and paying for top coaches to make the program as good as it could be. The Gators have won more championships than any other SEC school and consistently have been at the top of the all-sports standings never finishing out of the top three.
Without a true commitment to excellence, the University of Florida would not be known as the home of Tracy Caulkins and Nicole Haislett. The Gators would not be synonymous with Lisa Raymond and Jill Craybas. The Gators gave the American sports scene Danielle Fotopolous, Abbie Wambach and Heather Mitts. And for international flavor, how about Aury Cruz, Aycan Gokberk, Zerene Reyes and on the men's side, Anthony Nesty and Hamid Mirzadeh. And that's just a handful.
"Non-Revenue" Sports' Success Pays Off
The fact that a particular sport doesn't bring in crowds of five or ten thousand and more, doesn't mean the team is a "drain" on the University. In fact, the success, acclaim and recognition these student-athletes bring to UF has to be considered a factor in the rising demand for admission to UF and with it the ever-increasing academic respect the school enjoys.
As a 1981 UF grad, I know I look for UF every time there is a listing of the top law schools or journalism programs. I look for UF's ranking in any and all categories that come up. I take pride in Florida being one of the top twenty public institutions in the nation and applaud the goal of trying to crack the top ten.
As a sports analyst/commentator, I freely admit I enjoy watching excellence in the O'Dome, Percy Beard Stadium, the Ring Tennis Complex and anywhere else the Gators might be competing. It is such a gift to Gator fans that UF rarely sends a team into competition that doesn't have a realistic chance to win a championship.
Certainly nothing takes the place of a great football team, and nothing makes success in all sports possible more than excellence in football and men's basketball. But while some schools have just a few teams that might bring home trophies, the University of Florida has eleven that finished in the nation's top ten this year alone.
For my money, excellence in the total sports program speaks volumes about the character of the University. If you want further evidence, just look at the schools ahead of UF in this year's standings --- Stanford, Texas, Michigan, UCLA and Duke. That's company well worth keeping.