Enter John Fitzwater, the Publisher of the Gainesville Sun to create a scoring system and trophy to recognize the best overall men's, women's and combined all sports programs. While the Gators did not win all three titles every year, the Gators did win the combined trophy for 14 consecutive years.
When you cover as many Gator events as I do in the variety of sports I do, it's hard to explain how gratifying it is to have consistently competitive teams across the board. Sure there are years where a team or two or three comes up short, but those who care about this University and this program have to appreciate what it means to have such quality across the board.
Plenty of Credit to Go Around
Obviously the credit for the long-time dominance of the all-sports competition begins with Florida Athletic Director Jeremy Foley. His desire to see the Gators win trophies in everything they do is felt throughout UAA and is a big part of making all of this happen. Foley not only demands excellence on and off the field, but he also makes certain the facilities and other resources are in place to make it possible.
Senior Women's Administrator Lynda Tealer and his predecessor Anne Marie Rogers share in the accolades. As the primary overseer of Florida's superb women's programs, this duo gets hands on credit as well.
But the lion's share of credit has to go to the student-athletes and their coaches in every sport on campus. It's the kids who compete. It's the coaches who recruit, guide and prepare them for the competitions. They are the ones who have the pressure to produce and suffer the pain of coming up short. Yes, they get the praise the trophies and the rings when the time comes, but they earn them.
Re-Claiming the Title Simple, Difficult
For the Gators to make up the points needed to reclaim their status as the best in the SEC is easy to figure out. Not so easy, the challenge of getting it done. It comes down to two basic areas. Florida needs to be stronger at the top, and steer clear of the bottom in SEC races across the board.
Florida needs to win more than the two SEC Titles they brought home in the 2005-06 school year. Florida topped the conference standings in just Volleyball (shared) and Women's Tennis. Georgia, on the other hand claimed the SEC Championship in six sports. The Bulldogs won men's titles in football, golf and tennis. Georgia women were the best in gymnastics, swimming and track.
While the Florida women won the school's only titles this year, the largest areas for improvement are also on that side of the ledger. The Gators finished fifth or lower in six women's sports including all three track teams (cross country-5th, indoor-8th and outdoor-9th). Florida also ended up fifth in women's basketball and softball and settled for sixth in the SEC Golf Tournament.
On the men's side the shocking slide of the Gator Baseball team is the one place where the Gators came up way short. Florida's 8-and-19 SEC record is the worst in school history and the Gators currently reside in 12th place in the league. That's the position Steve Spurrier once referred to in discussing UF's pass defense "dead-ass last". The Florida Football team also has room at the top, having finished fifth overall in conference play last year.
It's interesting to note the Gators actually lead Georgia in the men's competition by 3.5 points with the final weekend of the baseball season coming up. To hold on for the All-Sports men's trophy the 12th place Gators have to finish no more than three spots behind the Dawgs. Problem is it can't happen. If Georgia loses all three games this weekend they will finish no worse than 7th overall. If the Gators win all three against LSU, they will finish no better than 11th.
So the Dawgs have dethroned Florida atop the SEC All-Sports standings, but don't let that diminish what the Gators have done for almost a decade and a half. Gator fans are a spoiled lot, and that's not a bad thing. But sometimes it takes something like this in order to appreciate what has already taken place.