Gators and Buckeyes prove you can win at both

ATLANTA – At 9:21 Monday night, the argument finally will fade away into oblivion.

The notion that major colleges can't have elite football and men's basketball programs has been suffering a slow death for years now, but it becomes official tonight with the national championship game in the Georgia Dome. Florida and Ohio State will meet for the title 84 days after their football teams did the same thing.

"To me, the nail got put in that coffin a year ago," Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley said.

His department, as much as any, put it there. Earlier this year, Ohio State was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated as the nation's top athletic department, but everyone seems to be chasing the Gators, who whipped the Buckeyes 41-14 in the football matchup.

Florida already is the first school to hold the football and men's basketball titles simultaneously. A victory tonight would make them the first team to repeat as men's basketball champions since the 1991-92 Duke team.

But it's this game that is truly historic. Never before have the same schools met for the football and basketball titles in the same academic or calendar year.

"I think it says a lot about both institutions that they could be in this situation," Buckeyes head coach Thad Matta said. "From that standpoint, it's a tremendous opportunity."

Georgia's football and men's basketball never have won even a conference title in the same year. The Bulldogs always have been known as a "football school," a notion illustrated by the fact head football coach Mark Richt is paid more than twice as much basketball coach Dennis Felton ($760,000).

At Georgia Tech, the only year of shared success was 1990, when the football team won the ACC and shared the national title and the basketball team won the conference tournament and advanced to the Final Four.

The key is the coaching, Foley said. When head basketball coach Billy Donovan came to Florida in 1996, the Gators had finished first in the SEC twice in their history, and football coach Steve Spurrier was at the height of his reign.

"Billy Donovan came in and he didn't worry about football one day, never once, all he did was embrace football, and look where he ended up," Foley said. "He just worried about his program."

When Foley hired Urban Meyer as his football coach two years ago, Meyer in turn embraced Donovan, who by then was the Big Coach on Campus. Donovan and Meyer live in the same neighborhood in Gainesville and spoke to each other's teams during the season.

"He embraces basketball because he's seen what Billy's done," Foley said. "Those type of relationships are hard to come by."

For Foley's part, he makes sure both programs get everything they need to succeed. And that doesn't stop with just football and basketball, Donovan said.

"It's everything at Florida that's good," Donovan said. "I think where there are problems is when all the focus is totally just on one sport and you do not have a balance in what you need. I really felt like from Day 1 since I've been there, the commitment that there is to having the best athletic department in the country, not just football, basketball and baseball, but also the women's side."

A powerful football team makes it all possible, though, because of the revenue it creates, Donovan said.

"One hundred and five thousand people on a Saturday afternoon in the (football stadium) definitely helps all programs," Ohio State basketball coach Thad Matta said. "The notoriety that our football program provides, we really try to work hand-in-hand with. Ohio State is a special place, and it affords us a lot of things to do our job."

Ohio State senior Ron Lewis was born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1984 and between that time and when he arrived on campus as a transfer in 2005, the Buckeyes won one Big Ten conference basketball title. Ohio State is and always will be a football school, he said, but that doesn't mean the basketball team can't share the wealth.

"We aren't trying to fight them or their image," Lewis said. "The football team has a great tradition, and Ohio State always will be a football school. Our thing was to try to get the basketball team to a higher standard, and I think we're doing that."

There are challenges to having it all, Foley said. With Donovan reportedly days away from being offered a huge raise to take Kentucky's head coaching job, Foley could soon be forced to pay his basketball coach close to $4 million. Then, of course, to maintain the balance in his department, he would have to boost Meyer to at least near that level.

"I've got no problem with that," Foley said. "That's not a challenge. That's part of the business."

And business is good.

Dawg Post Top Stories